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UKORGK SKLWYN AND HIS DOG "RATON 

FKHM A PORTRAIT BY SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS 




BY 

S. PARNELL KERR 



WITH SIXTEEN ILLUSTRATIONS 



METHUEN & CO. 

36 ESSEX STREET W.C. 

LONDON 



First Published in 



I DEDICATE THIS BOOK 
TO 

E. E. O. 

WHOM TO LOVE IS, IN VERY TRUTH, 
A LIBERAL EDUCATION 



PREFACE 

THE preface to a study of George Selwyn could hardly 
do better than give briefly that strange Tale of Two 
Boxes which is the history of Selwyn's private papers. 
When Selwyn died in 1791 he was the holder of the sinecure 
post of Surveyor-General of Crown Lands, Woods and Forests, 
to which he had been appointed in 1784. Though he had 
practically no duties to perform, he had an apartment reserved 
for him at the Office of Woods in Whitehall, and it was here 
that he stored his letters, private papers, account-books, and 
written memoranda of every kind. Selwyn was very anxious 
that his own letters to his friends should be destroyed as 
soon as read ; but, fortunately for us, he was careful to keep 
the letters which he himself received, however unimportant 
or trivial they happened to be. At his death there were, then, 
at the Office of Woods, two large boxes of these private papers, 
which appear entirely to have been overlooked by Selwyn's 
executors, the fifth Earl of Carlisle and another. At all events, 
for half-a-century or so the boxes lay undisturbed and forgotten 
in a garret in Whitehall. They were then that is to say, 
about 1840 discovered by a clerk in the Office of Woods, 
who communicated his discovery to that well-known and 
industrious chronicler of aristocratic small beer, Mr John 
Heneage Jesse. Mr Jesse recognised the value of the dis- 
covery, and, apparently without the sanction or knowledge of 
the representative of Selwyn's executors, began, in 1843-1844, to 
publish a selection from the papers under the general title of 
u George Selwyn and His Contemporaries, with Memoirs and 
Notes." He had published four volumes when the then Earl 
vii 



viii GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

of Carlisle intervened, and the publication was brought to an 
abrupt conclusion. But we can never be too thankful to Mr 
Jesse for his clandestine enterprise. The volumes are deeply 
interesting, and are indeed one of the most fascinating records 
of eighteenth - century life and manners which we possess. 
They are our principal authority upon the friendships of 
Selwyn, though, as they consist almost entirely of letters 
written to him, they throw little light upon the personality 
of George Selwyn himself. They have, of course, been largely 
used by me in the preparation of this book. 

But the history of the boxes does not end at this point. 
After Mr Jesse's raid upon them they again disappeared, 
or were at least left undisturbed, and for another half century, 
in the Office of Woods and Forests. Various inquiries were 
made about them from time to time in the columns of Notes and 
Queries, and certain stray papers appear even to have been 
abstracted from them, and to have found their way into various 
hands. But it was not until 1900 that the authorities, upon 
the advice of the Solicitor to the Department, handed the 
boxes over to Mr R. du Cane, the surviving executor of 
William Frederick, seventh Earl of Carlisle, and Mr du Cane 
in turn handed them to the present Earl, in whose possession 
they now are. Unfortunately, Lord Carlisle, upon examining 
them, found a written request by George Selwyn to his 
executors, asking that the papers should immediately be 
destroyed upon his death. This request was not complied 
with, for the very good reason that the executors did not 
discover the papers. Further, it was disregarded by Mr 
Jesse, who not only read the letters, but published four 
volumes of them to the world. But naturally Lord Carlisle 
feels bound by what was evidently a strong desire on Selwyn's 
part, and it is not therefore probable that we shall have any 
more letters from this source. It is true that the reasons 
which obviously actuated Selwyn in this matter have not 
the same validity to-day. Letters which it would have been 



PREFACE ix 

disastrous to make public in 1791 could be made public now 
without annoyance to any living person, and with pleasure 
and profit to many. It is also true that Mr Jesse's action 
rendered Selwyn's wish practically of no effect. Nevertheless, 
the view which Lord Carlisle takes is a perfectly natural and 
proper one ; and it is especially deserving of respect when 
one remembers that it is the view of the descendant and 
representative of George Selwyn's most intimate friend. In 
any case, I should like to say quite explicitly that no new 
material from the famous boxes has been available for the 
present work. 

The next authority upon which the biographer of George 
Selwyn depends is the series of letters addressed by Selwyn to 
the fifth Earl of Carlisle and his Countess, and discovered some 
years since at Castle Howard. These letters, over two hundred 
in number, were published in 1897 in the Appendix to the 
Fifteenth Report of the Historical Manuscripts Commission, 
under the careful editorship of Mr R. E. G. Kirk, and were 
republished in 1899 in a volume entitled "George Selwyn: 
His Letters and His Life," edited by Mr E. S. Roscoe and 
Miss Helen Clergue. Selwyn was a copious, indefatigable, but 
entirely undistinguished letter-writer. He prided himself upon 
his simplicity and ease. Easy and simple he certainly was ; 
but easy writing makes hard reading ; and it would have been 
more pleasant for us if Selwyn had taken some little care with 
his epistolary style. He wrote in a language which was neither 
indifferent English nor indifferent French, but a mixture of 
both, with (after his stay in Milan) a few scraps of very bad 
Italian thrown in. As literature, therefore, the Carlisle cor- 
respondence is of no importance ; but it is extremely interest- 
ing and valuable, not only as a running commentary upon the 
manners and morals of George Selwyn's period, but also as 
a source of information about the man himself. In Mr Jesse's 
volumes the personality of Selwyn eludes us. We read the 
letters addressed to him, but there are no replies. The 



x GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

recipient does not appear on the scene at all, but stands like 
a shadow behind. In the Carlisle correspondence, however, 
Selwyn comes forward and, almost for the first time, speaks to 
us with his own voice. It is, one may remark, a different voice 
from that to which we had been accustomed in the letters of 
Horace Walpole. 

When we have mentioned the volumes of Mr Jesse and the 
Carlisle correspondence, together with such well-known store- 
houses of Selwynian wit as Walpole's letters, we have practic- 
ally exhausted the published sources of information about 
George Selwyn. To these I am now by the kindness of the 
Hon. Robert Marsham-Townshend, of Frognal enabled to 
add a number of letters addressed by Selwyn to his niece Mary 
Townshend, and her brother Charles Townshend, mostly in the 
years 1778-1779, when Selwyn was abroad, in Italy and Paris. 
These letters are in some ways even more interesting and 
characteristic than the correspondence with Carlisle. They are 
written in a purer English style, and they give us a glimpse 
of the very pleasant relations which existed at that period 
between Selwyn and the members of his own family. Further, 
they fill a gap in the Carlisle correspondence, caused by the 
absence of Selwyn in Italy and of Carlisle in America. But 
again, the letters of George Selwyn are not, like the letters of 
Horace Walpole or William Cowper, sacrosanct, and I have not 
hesitated to cut them when it seemed to me desirable to do so. 

My thanks are very specially due to the Hon. Robert 
Marsham-Townshend for permission to print the Townshend 
letters and to reproduce the Selwyn family portraits in his 
possession, and for other kindnesses received from him in the 
preparation of this book. I have also to thank the Rev. Canon 
Bazeley, D.D., Rector of Matson ; the Earl of Carlisle ; 
Colonel Curtis- Hay ward, Quedgeley House ; Major Selwyn- 
Payne, Badgeworth End ; the Earl of Rosebery, Earl Carring- 
ton, Mr H. E. Du C. Morris, Major Wegg-Prosser, Mr T. E. 
Harvey, Irish Record Office, and the authors of the " History of 



PREFACE xi 

Chislehurst," for various services rendered. I should like also to 
mention the courtesy of the late Rev. T. Vere Bayne, Keeper 
of the Archives at Oxford, in permitting me to extract from 
the records of Convocation the account of Selwyn's escapade at 
that University. 

S. PARNELL KERR 




CONTENTS 



CHAPTER 

i. GEORGE SELWYN'S ENGLAND 

ii. BIRTH AND PARENTAGE . 

in. ETON AND OXFORD 

iv. SKLWYN ON THE TOWN . 

v. THE FIRST SELWYN CIRCLE 

vi. STRAWBERRY HILL 
vn. "MR SELWYN THE WIT" 
vin. THE MORBID SELWYN 

ix. SELWYN AS M.P. 

x. SELWYN IN PARIS 

xi. "Mm Mm" 

xii. A JOURNEY TO MILAN . 
xiii. THE SECOND SELWYN CIRCLE 
xiv. CLUBS AND GAMING 

xv. LATER YEARS 



xvi. GEORGE SELWYN AND HIS TIMES 

INDEX 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 



GEORGE SELWYN AND HIS DOG "RATON" . . Frontispiece 

From a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the possession of the 
Earl of Rosebery. 

FACING PAGE 

THEODOSIA, WIFE OF GENERAL THOMAS FARRINGTON . . 12 

From a painting in the possession of the Hon. Robert Marsham- 
Townshend. 

COLONEL JOHN SELWYN . . . _ . . 14 

From a painting in the possession of the Hon. Robert Marsham- 
Townshend. 

MRS JOHN SELWYN . . . . . .16 

From an engraving. 

ALBINIA, SISTER OF GEORGE SELWYN AND WIFE OF THE HON. 

THOMAS TOWNSHEND . . . . . .18 

From a painting in the possession of the Hon. Robert Marsham- 
Townshend. 

MATSON HOUSE IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY . . 20 

From a painting in the possession of the Hon. Robert Marsham- 
Townshend. 

MATSON HOUSE TO-DAY . . . . .24 

From a photograph. 

GEORGE SELWYN AS A YOUNG MAN . . . -34 

From a painting in the possession of Colonel T. Curtis- Hay ward, 
Quedgeley House. 

GEORGE SELWYN . . . . . . .48 

From a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the possession of the 
Hon. Robert Marsham-Townshend. 



xvi GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 



FACING PAGE 



GEORGE SELWYN, GILLY WILLIAMS, AND DICK EDGECUMBE . 86 

From an engraving of the " Conversation Piece " by Sir Joshua Reynolds 
formerly at Strawberry Hill. 

GEORGE SELWYN . . . . . . .108 

From the pastel by H. D. Hamilton in the possession of the Earl of 
Carlisle. By permission of Lord Carlisle and Mr Fisher Unwin. 

GEORGE SELWYN . . . . . . .122 

From the picture by J. Jackson, R.A., at Castle Howard. Original by 
Sir Joshua Reynolds. By permission of Major J. H. Selwyn-Payne. 

DUCHESSE DE CHOISEUL AND MADAME DU DEFFAND . . 1 86 

From an engraving. 

i 

"MiE MIE" . . . . . . .208 

From the portrait by Romney. 

Miss MARY TOWNSHEND . . . . .216 

From the portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the possession of the 
Hon. Robert Marsham-Townshend. 

GEORGE SELWYN AND FREDERICK, EARL OF CARLISLE . 270 

From the painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds at Castle Howard. By 
permission of the Earl of Carlisle. 



GEORGE SELWYN AND THE 
WITS 

CHAPTER I 

GEORGE SELWYN'S ENGLAND 

IT is a common enough practice of biographers to allege 
that the birth of their subject was a quite extraordinary 
event, and marked either the beginning or the end of an era, 
>r was otherwise of unique importance to mankind. No such 
illegation can be made in the case of George Selwyn. He made 
lis entrance into the world at a comparatively inconspicuous 
date, which that event in itself has not lifted into prominence. 
Nevertheless, it is interesting to notice that the year of his birth, 
1719, was the year of Addison's death. Pope was then thirty- 
one, Richardson thirty, Swift fifty-two, and Congreve forty-nine ; 
while Samuel Johnson was ten, Fielding twelve, Sterne six, 
and Thomas Gray three. All this information, however, would 
have seemed profoundly unnecessary to Selwyn, who cared 
nothing for literary men, and knew more about St James's than 
about Grub Street. His friends were not poets and men of 
letters ; they were wits, men of fashion, court people, politicians, 
statesmen. We should therefore rather note (if we must put 
Selwyn in his chronological place) that in 1719 George I. had 
been on the throne for five years ; his son, just over from 
Hanover, was enjoying life in his own peculiar way at his house 
in Leicester Fields; Sir Robert Walpole was First Minister 
of the Crown ; Bolingbroke, aged forty-one, was an exile in 
France ; Chesterfield, twenty-five, a rising hope of the ex- 
tremely pliant Tories of the day ; while Pitt and Henry Fox 
were schoolboys of eleven and fourteen respectively. The 
times in England were quiet. People had begun to live and 
breathe again after the great Whig revolution and the little 



2 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

Tory rebellion ; and the Georgian era, for good or for ill (or for 
not much of either), was well under way. 

Let us admit at once that the birth of George Selwyn was 
the birth of a man who was not important enough to make any 
great impress upon his age. But don't let us dismiss him 
in a hurry because of this ; he may be worth writing about and 
worth reading about nevertheless. We need not dwell on his 
achievements (such as they were) here ; but even in an intro- 
ductory chapter we may say two things about him. In the 
first place, born as he was in 1719, and dying in 1791, George 
Selwyn performed the feat of living practically through the 
eighteenth century. It was not a very difficult feat, to be sure ; 
but the point is that he did it. Now the eighteenth century 
was not a static century. It moved ; there were currents 
of life and of thought in it ; idea gave way to idea and fashion 
to fashion just as they did in the nineteenth century, and just 
as they are doing in the twentieth. And in reading through 
the life of George Selwyn one catches in a most extraordinary 
way this elusive flavour of change. You begin with an almost 
legendary England : the England of George I. and George II. : 
the England of bag-wigs and Jacobites and German women at 
the Court ; you pass on to a period when German women and 
Jacobites lose their importance : when England's navies sweep 
the seas, and England's armies win romantic empires all over 
the world, and lose them too ; and you end amid the thunders 
of the French Revolution, proclaiming the coming of our 
modern time. And not only was Selwyn contemporary with 
these movements and events : he was, in a sense, a part of 
them, though not a great part. He lived behind the scenes, 
and talked familiarly with the principal actors. He knew 
them all : kings and princes and German women ; statesmen, 
generals, admirals ; belles and beaux, gossips and wits. Only 
a very stupid man (a Hanoverian duke, for example) could live 
through this time and enjoy these opportunities and remain 
uninteresting to posterity ; and Selwyn was not that. But 
further, Selwyn harmonises well with the popular conception 
of the eighteenth century. One only refrains from calling him 
a characteristic figure because no man can properly be called 
characteristic of a century : that is too great a space of our 
mortal life to be reflected in any single person, however eminent. 



GEORGE SELWYN'S ENGLAND 3 

But Selwyn at least fits the popular conception of his period. 
What is that conception ? Surely it is that of a picturesque 
and leisured time ; a time of fine ladies and gentlemen ; of 
hoops, powder, and patches ; of knee-breeches, ruffles, and 
swords ; of stately minuets and slow, elegant, quadrilles ; of 
masks, dominos, link-boys, sedan-chairs ; of coffee-houses, 
cocoa-houses, Vauxhalls, Ranelaghs, Marylebones. This is 
not quite a true conception of England in the eighteenth 
century ; it involves the static fallacy. But it is a true enough 
conception of a certain stratum of English life as it existed 
during a great portion of that century : the stratum to which 
George Selwyn belonged. For eighteenth-century England was 
not homogeneous, just as twentieth-century England is not 
homogeneous. There was not one England then ; there were 
three Englands. And it is the first England with which we 
are chiefly concerned in this book. 

That we may rightly call George Selwyn's England. In it 
he lived and moved for the seventy odd years of his life, nor 
ever thought much about or cared much for the two Englands 
outside his own. Selwyn's England was, of course, the England 
of the King, the Court, and the governing classes. It was in 
reality a very thin veneer upon the fabric of the life of the 
country. A modern writer has spoken of the British empire 
in India as " an empire in the air." He conceives the British 
government there as a delicate gossamer spread out over the 
bubbling cauldron of native life, insubstantial, incredibly 
fragile. Something like this was Selwyn's England in the 
eighteenth century. It was an " empire in the air," the rule of 
a few families, who shuffled the cards of place and power among 
themselves now and then, and who were very indignant if any 
person of plebeian birth proposed to take a hand in the game. 
In this empire the King was the chief figure. Next in import- 
ance was (sometimes) the Queen, and (sometimes) the King's 
favourite mistress. Then came the court people, lords and 
ladies in waiting, and their hangers-on : in this circle the 
Selwyns moved. Then the ministers of state, who governed 
the country by governing the King, and who governed the 
King by making themselves agreeable to his mistress or his 
wife. Add the ordinary English patricians who dozed in the 
House of Lords, and had the House of Commons in their 



4 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

pockets, and who sent their younger sons to fight for England 
by land and sea ; a sprinkling of wits, beaux, men of fashion, 
who might or might not be of good family ; and you have 
Selwyn's England complete. It hardly included the country 
squires : those barbarians belonged to the second England 
Fielding's. And it certainly did not include merchants and 
tradesmen and shopkeepers, who must distribute themselves 
as best they can between the second England and the third 
Wesley's England. 

Selwyn's England found its diarist in Horace Walpole ; and 
he who would know thoroughly that England, its content, its 
human boundaries, its inhabitants and their customs, manners 
and morals, must steep himself in Horace Walpole's letters. 
Those letters are almost as the sands of the sea. There are 
now over four thousand of them published, and he would be a 
bold man who would affirm that the end is yet ; so that to read 
them requires a certain amount of courage and physical strength. 
But until you have read them (most of us have pretended to do 
so) you can hardly be said to know Selwyn's England. Indeed, 
Walpole is very nearly a nuisance to the student of the eighteenth 
century. He must for ever be quoting him, or referring to his 
pages for the anecdote of Lord A. or the Duke of B., or for the 
rights of that amusing story about Lady C. and the footman. 
He cannot help it. Nowhere else is this personal gossip 
chronicled with such method and fulness ; obscure indeed is 
the patrician who evades Walpole's pen. And if any grave 
person think personal gossip trivial, and beneath the dignity of 
the historian or the serious student of life, he must turn away 
his eyes from Walpole : the letters are not for him. He must 
read the sound and sober pages of Adam Smith, Mr Gibbon, 
or Mr Hume. But for us who delight in this unworthy chron- 
icling of the trivial, Walpole is the man. Nor should we grumble 
that he is so pervasive. Surely never was the history of sixty 
years written in so cheerful, so amusing, so gossipy a manner 
as in the Letters of Horace Walpole. " Fiddles sing all through 
them," says Thackeray ; " wax lights, fine dresses, fine jokes, 
fine plate, fine equipages, glitter and sparkle there ; never was 
such a brilliant, jiggling, smirking Vanity Fair as that through 
which he leads us." Yes, and Thackeray has given us here the 
synonym for Selwyn's England. It was the Vanity Fair of 






GEORGE SELWYN'S ENGLAND 5 

the eighteenth century. George Selwyn was a well-known 
figure in the Fair for many a year ; kept his footing there with 
the best of them ; ate, drank, and made merry with his friends 
in all its most noted booths ; and was quite the " weary King 
Ecclesiast " before he had done with it. He wandered about 
the Fair from morning till night, a recognised wearer of the 
motley ; by profession (other people's profession) a wit, ex- 
changing jests for dinners ; going home to his booth at night 
as it is understood most jesters do in an extremely mournful 
and melancholy frame of mind. Horace Walpole had a pretty 
little booth in the Fair named Strawberry. He sat in it of an 
afternoon writing letters, in which he would put all the latest 
news of the Fair. Sometimes he overheard a jest of Selwyn's 
it floated through the window and down it would go in the 
letter. But for this we might easily have overlooked the fact 
that Vanity Fair had a jester whose name was George Selwyn. 
At the other end of the scale from Selwyn's England was an 
England of a very different kind. It was a great, barbaric, un- 
civilised England ; a drinking, swearing, cock-fighting, lecherous, 
England ; full of lusty and turbulent life, of a horrible coarse- 
ness and brutality. I have called this Fielding's England ; but 
you will find it also in the pictures of Hogarth and in the novels 
of Smollett. Fielding, however, was its true historian ; he 
alone painted it with that large and firm touch which ensures 
immortality. And Fielding had the right temperament for the 
work. He treats of a life of almost incredible coarseness, and 
there are therefore coarse pages in his novels ; but there are no 
foul pages in them ; his books are clean and moral in the best 
sense. Fielding was a great man that is to say, his nature was 
large and generous. He accepted the brutality of contemporary 
life because it was there ; but he did not brood over it. His 
humour was Shakespearian ; he laughed out loudly at a joke 
at any incongruity and had done with it. He did not linger over 
it, and smack his lips, and leer, like Sterne. If then you would 
know Darkest England in the eighteenth century, you must read 
his novels. You must accompany Tom Jones on his journey from 
Somerset to London, by way of Gloucester, Upton, Worcester, 
Coventry and Barnet. You must stop at the inns with him 
(or, if you are a lady, with Sophia), and listen to the talk of 
landlords and ostlers, tramps/ gipsies, highwaymen, squires, 



6 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

apothecaries and schoolmasters. Or it would do equally well 
to accompany Mr Joseph Andrews and Mr Abraham Adams 
in their wanderings between London and Booby Hall, when 
you will learn something of the curious customs of rural Eng- 
land in those days, of how magistrates administered justice 
for example, and country parsons religion. One has said that 
Selwyn's England was a very different kind from Fielding's. 
But was it so different ? Savages inhabited both countries, only 
that in one the savages had a thin veneer of civilisation, and 
in the other they had not even that. There were civilised men 
in both countries too ; but they were in a minority. I think that 
Charles Townshend (of Selwyn's England) was a civilised man, 
and I am sure Parson Adams (of Fielding's England) was a 
civilised man also. But in both the imperfectly civilised 
enjoyed themselves after their fashion. In Selwyn's England 
they ate and drank and played cards and intrigued ; in 
Fielding's England they also ate and drank ; their amusements 
were dog-fighting, cock-fighting, and bull-baiting ; and they 
had a free way with women. The boundaries between these 
two Englands were not rigidly fixed. Thus when Selwyn went 
down to Gloucester, and entertained the mayor and burgesses 
to dinner, or sat as justice on the local bench, he had a peep at 
Fielding's England. And there were less reputable journeys 
from one to the other. Lord Coke and Richard Rigby, for 
example, would dine together at White's Club in St James's 
Street, two well-known inhabitants of Selwyn's country. They 
would then hurry off to a cock-match in some low part of the 
town, returning perhaps with pockets full of ready money, or 
with empty pockets, as the case might be. Hogarth saw them 
(or their like) at the cock-match, and painted them : a terrible 
picture, that of Hogarth's. But on these men the veneer was 
very thin. 

The third England was between Selwyn's and Fielding's, 
neither aristocratic nor vulgar : a middle-class England we 
should call it, only that " middle-class " is a nineteenth- 
century term, which came in with the coming of industrialism. 
But you must conceive it peopled by merchants, shopkeepers, 
clerks, superior artisans, farmers. And we name it by the 
name of the great man who knew it best, because he explored 
it thoroughly, and who spoke to it in a language it could under- 



GEORGE SELWYN'S ENGLAND 7 

stand : John Wesley. Wesley's England was an inarticulate 
England : it never got itself expressed in literature, except in 
John Wesley's own journal, which indeed is literature, if 
anything be. But it was a very real England for all that. The 
curious thing is that it is so persistently overlooked by those 
who write upon the eighteenth century : you would imagine 
that it had no existence. Yet George Selwyn was born only 
sixty years after the close of a Puritan revolution which was 
strong enough to cut off a king's head and to pull down the 
Throne itself. What happened to these Puritans and their 
children ? They were silenced at the Restoration ; but they 
were not destroyed. They still peopled the quiet hills and 
dales and country towns of England, and kept their terrible 
silence till John Wesley mounted his horse, and rode out 
among them, and gave them a new speech. And Wesley spoke 
not alone to the Puritan ; he made converts from Fielding's 
England ; and even had his trophies in Selwyn's England in 
an occasional Countess of Huntingdon. If you want a delicately 
painted picture of family life in, or on the borders of, Wesley's 
England you will find it in the pages of " The Virginians," where 
Thackeray gives us, in the Lamberts, a specimen of the best 
kind of eighteenth-century Puritan family (and gives us also in 
the Lambert girls two of the most charming heroines in English 
fiction. But this by the way). Stout old Martin Lambert, who 
wore " a plain fustian coat, and a waistcoat without a particle 
of lace," was born of a good Puritan stock. Did he not keep 
"breastplates and black morions" of Oliver's troopers in his 
hall ? " ' They fought against your grandfathers and King 
Charles, Mr Warrington,' said Harry's host. ' We don't hide 
that. They rode to join the Prince of Orange at Exeter. We 
were Whigs, young gentleman, and something more. . . . We 
were all more or less partial to short hair and long sermons. . . .'" 
But times were changing. The Lamberts were " very good 
churchmen now . . . our women are all for the Church, and 
carry me with 'em. Every woman is a Tory at heart." Indeed, 
there was not much in Puritanism, eighteenth-century or other, 
to attract a woman. But it is in Wesley's journal that you will 
find the only complete account of the England which was his. 
" If you don't know it," said Edward Fitzgerald, " do know it. 
It is curious to think of this diary running coevally with 



8 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

Walpole's letters diary the two men born and dying, too, 
within a few miles of one another, and with such different lives 
to record. And it is remarkable to read pure, unaffected, un- 
dying English, while Addison and Johnson were tainted with a 
style which all the world imitated." That is not the last word 
on the matter of style ; there is more to be said ; but nobody 
can deny the excellence and strength of Wesley's. Let us not, 
however, read the journals only for the style : let us read them 
to make the acquaintance of an England which you will never 
find in Walpole's letters. You may not like this England ; 
but it is an extraordinarily interesting country ; and the figure 
of Wesley bestrides it like a Colossus. 

Fitzgerald has mentioned Walpole : that elegant diarist once 
heard Wesley speak at Bath. Did Wesley and George Selwyn 
ever meet? We do not know. But Wesley often took the 
road to the west, by Oxford, Worcester and Gloucester ; that 
was Selwyn's frequent road also ; and it is just possible these 
two men passed each other upon the way. Their meeting 
would have been a subject for Stevenson's pen ; or Mr Quiller- 
Couch could describe it for us, with an almost equal skill. 
Selwyn rolls up in his pair-horse coach to the inn at Upton-on- 
Severn, tired with his long journey from Oxford. Just as he 
reaches the door a solitary horseman passes him, riding slowly 
towards Worcester : an oldish man, with a fresh-coloured face 
and grey hair down to his shoulders. The two men regard each 
other firmly as they pass ; but neither speaks. As Selwyn 
descends from his chariot he inquires casually from his valet 
who the riding parson was : and somebody in the crowd says 
" Mr Wesley." " Indeed ! And is that Mr Wesley ? " says 
Selwyn, slowly. " He is better mounted than ever his Master 
was." The Wit hurries in to supper, for he means to sleep at his 
house at Gloucester that night ; the Preacher rides on alone 
under the cold stars. 

The more one reads of the eighteenth century, the more 
convinced one is that it is uncommonly like the nineteenth 
century, and so much as we have seen of the twentieth century 
also. Men and manners change, and still remain the same. We 
need not trouble ourselves with the speculation as to whether 
we are or are not more civilised than our ancestors of that time 



GEORGE SELWYN'S ENGLAND 9 

were. Superficially we are certainly better than they : we wash 
ourselves a little more ; we use French phrases to describe 
certain people and things that had honest Saxon names then ; 
we don't go to see criminals hanged (but we ask the sheriff to 
do so). The only safe generalisation we can make on this point 
of comparison is that there is probably a greater diffusion of 
happiness in England now than there was in Georgian times. 
More people in proportion to the population are happy now 
than were then, so far as material things make for happiness : 
that is to say, more people have plenty to eat and drink, fine 
clothes to wear, and good houses to live in, than when George II. 
or his grandson was king. Perhaps also we are a little more 
merciful than our ancestors were in those days, when they 
hanged women and children for theft. But, apart from these 
variations, our modern life is in its essentials not very different 
from the life George Selwyn knew. If Selwyn could revisit 
London to-day he would not feel entirely a stranger. Chester- 
field Street, Cleveland Square, St James's Street, White's and 
Brooks's, would give him a friendly welcome; and the people who 
inhabit those leisured places would speak his own language. 
Indeed, nothing strikes one more in reading the letters of 
Selwyn's period than the fact that their writers talked, and 
thought, and wrote, very much as we do. " My dear Mother," 
says Lord Edward Fitzgerald, writing from Quebec in 1789, 
" I fear we are all beasts, and love ourselves best. Don't trouble 
yourself about me ever, for heat and cold equally agree with me. 
I beg your pardon for saying so much about myself. Well, 
God bless you all, men, women, and children." l So might a son 
write to his mother now, if he had a nature as large and a soul 
as generous as Lord Edward's. And here is a young lady of 
the same period writing to her friend, who happened to be Mary 
Townshend, George Selwyn's niece. 2 We don't know this 
young lady's name, as, following the pernicious fashion of the 
time, she omits to sign her letter. 



" I am ashamed to sit down and write to you " (she says) " in 
nswer to the very agreeable letter I found here at my return, 
only to tell you that I have not time to answer it ; but really 
the last two or three days one is in town, one is so eternally 

t 1 Letters of Lady Sarah Bunbury. 
2 Marsham-Townshend MSS. 



10 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

plagued with hideous tradesmen and the urgent mental employ- 
ment of packing up, that one has not a moment's time to 
recollect one's thoughts or make them fit to appear before a 
rational being. You must therefore excuse my telling you in the 
most prosing manner, that we propose setting out to-morrow 
morning, and hope to arrive at my uncle Powlett's in the even- 
ing. ... I hope you won't forget your promise, but will let 
me have the two essays you mention. They will be of singular 
use in Hampshire, for I should be very glad to persuade myself 
whilst I am there, that I am as happy as I could be at Frognal, 
that all places are equally agreeable, all people equally in- 
different to me. However I must study your essays a good 
deal before I can arrive at this state of happiness. ... It is 
quite a serious thing that I was so happy as to see the dear 
captain in the Park the other night, and had a gracious bow 
from him. My dear, I could talk to you this hour, but must 
leave you to pay a stupid bill, it is a strange thing people will 
plague one with such things. Nanny desires her kind love 
to you ; make both our compliments to all friends and folks. 
I hope you won't be obliged to shew this letter, it is not 
nonsensical at all to be sure, nor am I, yours, ma chere Marie, 
no, not at all to be sure." 

This fresh young voice from Selwyn's England comes across 
the centuries to us with a curiously familiar accent. Trades- 
men even in those days insisted upon being paid sometimes ; 
fascinating captains walked in the Park, and bowed graciously 
to smiling maidens in carriages ; people confessed to being 
happier in some places than in others. Let us not think of 
the eighteenth century as a time immensely remote, or of 
George Selwyn's England as a country utterly vanished and 
forgotten. It is not so. You may walk into that country 
to-morrow if you like, and cross its borders five minutes after 
leaving Piccadilly Circus. But you will not meet a George 
Selwyn there, or a Charles James Fox. If you would, I should 
be charmed to be of your company. 



CHAPTER H 

BIRTH AND PARENTAGE 

GEORGE AUGUSTUS SELWYN generally called 
George Selwyn was born on the I ith of August 1719, 
the second son of Colonel John Selwyn by his wife 
Mary, daughter of General Thomas Farrington. George was 
baptised at Chislehurst on the 25th of the same month : so the 
register tells us. We now know also that he was born in the 
same parish; for, writing to his niece, Mary Townshend, about 
four years before he died, Selwyn said : " I am glad to hear you 
talk of Chiselhurst. I may perhaps once more sleep in the room 
where I was born. I have a sort of penchant to Chiselhurst, 
as ordinary minds have aux dockers de leur Paroisse" J " The 
room where I was born" was in a fine old Jacobean house, long 
since demolished, called " Farrington's " by the learned authors 
of the " History of Chislehurst." It was the home of his 
mother's relatives. His father, Colonel Selwyn, had a country- 
seat at Matson in the county of Gloucester, and a town house 
in Cleveland Court, St James's. 

Matson, indeed, and not Chislehurst, was George Selwyn's 
real " paroisse." The Selwyns were a Gloucestershire family, 
usually said to have been descended from an old Sussex stock 
of the same name. But more recent researches seem to show 
that there was no connection between the Gloucestershire 
Selwins this was the early spelling and those of Sussex. 
Certainly there were Selwins in the western counties in very 
early times (one was probably Abbot of Malmesbury), even in 
the times when surnames were not, or were only names of de- 
scription. However that may be, the first Selwin who emerges 
into prominence is Jasper, a member of the Honourable Society 
of Lincoln's Inn in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The records 
of the Inn show that Jasper Selwin was admitted on I9th Novem- 
ber 1583. He is described as "of County Gloucester; was of 
Clement's Inn two years and more." Jasper was called to the 

1 Marsham-Townshend MSS. 
ii 



12 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

Bar in 1591, was elected a Bencher of the Inn in 1609, and was 
Treasurer in 1619-1620. In 1624 Mr ex-Treasurer Selwin got 
into trouble with the Masters of the Bench. He had let his 
chambers in the Inn to one Mr Thomas Hughes for 40, 
"during the naturall life of the said Mr Sellwyn (sic} . . . wch 
sale is very much disliked by the Masters of the Bench . . . 
and therefore it is ordered that the said chamber shall be forth- 
with seised or forfeited, and to be sold, and that the said 
Mr Sellwyn be here at the third Counsell next term to answer 
his contempt." Accordingly at the " third Counsell " in Michael- 
mas term " Mr Sellwyn " attended, and we find the following 
entry in the Black Books under date 26th October 1624 : 
" Whereas Mr Sellwyn was present at this Counsell and offered 
freely of his own accord threescore pounds to be pay'd the next 
day following, the Masters of the Bench accepted thereof, and 
thereupon ordered that he should reteyne his chamber during 
his lyfe, and that Mr Thomas Hughes and Mr Richard Boorne, 
two of the gentlemen of this House, at the intreaty of the said 
Mr Sellwyn, shall and may use and enjoy the said chamber 
during the lyfe of the said Mr Sellwyn, notwithstanding the 
former Order." You may see the name and arms of Jasper 
Selwin in the west window of Lincoln's Inn chapel. The 
Selwyns narrowly escaped being what is called a " legal " family, 
if indeed they did escape that fate. Jasper's son, William, 
entered Lincoln's Inn in 1610. He is described as "son of 
Jasper Selwin of Matesdon als Matson, County Gloucester, arm., 
bencher," for by this time, as we shall see, Jasper had become 
owner of the Matson estate. In 1667 Edward Selwyn the 
name now assumes permanently its modern spelling "son 
and heir apparent of William Selwyn of Matsen " (sic} was 
admitted of the Inn. After this the Selwyns of Matson forsook 
the profession of the law, and became country gentlemen, soldiers, 
administrators. But not entirely : a branch of the family carried 
on the legal tradition. Thus William Selwyn, K.C., a cousin of 
George Selwyn, was a Master of the Bench of Lincoln's Inn 
towards the close of the eighteenth century. He died in 1817, 
and was buried at Chislehurst. He had two sons, George and 
William, both of whom were Lincoln's Inn men, though George 
was afterwards ordained. Most people who know anything of 
the legal world have heard of " Nisi Prius " Selwyn, who was the 




THEODOSIA, WIFE OF GENERAL THOMAS FARRINGTON 



BIRTH AND PARENTAGE 13 

second son of the old K.C. He had three distinguished sons : 
William Selwyn, Canon of Ely ; George Augustus Selwyn, 
Bishop of New Zealand, and afterwards of Lichfield, and 
Charles Jasper Selwyn, a Lord Justice of Appeal. 

To return to Jasper Selwin's direct line : the next person of 
importance with whom we are concerned is Brigadier-General 
William Selwyn, the father of John, and grandfather of George 
Augustus Selwyn. William Selwyn was a soldier of some 
distinction. When a captain he had been on duty at Lincoln's 
Inn Fields at the execution of Lord Russell, and he was one 
of the Princess Anne's escort when she fled from her father's 
palace. 1 In 1688 he was Governor of Gravesend and Tilbury ; 
in 1695 he served with the army in Flanders; and six years 
later he was appointed Governor of Jamaica. Meanwhile he 
had married, and thereby hangs a tale of some romantic interest. 
William Selwyn had a brother colonel in the Coldstream 
Guards whose name was Thomas Farrington. Farrington 
lived at Chislehurst, and it is to be supposed that Selwyn 
visited him there, perhaps more than once. Near the Farring- 
tons lived Sir Richard Bettenson, the lord of the manor of 
Chislehurst and Scadbury, whose son and heir, Mr Richard 
Bettenson, had four pretty daughters. (Two, Frances, after- 
wards Mrs Hewett, and Dorothy, who died unmarried, hardly 
concern us.) The Farrington estate adjoined Scadbury, and 
what more natural than that Colonel Farrington and Colonel 
Selwyn should sometimes walk over and spend the evening 
with the Misses Bettenson? At all events, Miss Theodosia 
Bettenson became Mrs Thomas Farrington, and Miss Albinia 
Bettenson became Mrs William Selwyn. Just now let us 
follow the fortunes of General and Mrs Selwyn. They went 
to Jamaica in 1701. General Selwyn, however, did not long 
enjoy his governorship. He died in the following year, and 
his widow returned to England. 

Judging from the portraits which survive, Mrs William 
>elwyn was not so handsome as her sister Theodosia. But she 
fas a woman of charm, and of a certain vigour of character, 
have a hint of her charm in the letters of Lady Mary 
^ortley Montagu. " My greatest pleasure is at Mrs Selwyn's," 
she writes in 1710 to Mrs Hewett ; and, later in the same year, 
1 Webb's " History of Chislehurst." 



on hearing of John Selwyn's safety after Malplaquet : " I take 
an interest in Mr Selwyn's success. In a battle like that it 
may be called so to come off alive. I should be so sensitive of 
any affliction that could touch you or Mrs Selwyn, that I may 
very well rejoice when you have no occasion for any." Mrs 
William Selwyn was a woman of character also. "She had so 
much love of justice," said George Selwyn, "and was so exact 
in the performance of all the duties of life, that it would be 
thought she never had seen a court, but at the same time so 
well-bred that she appeared as if she had never been out of 
one." Left a widow with six children all under twelve upon 
her hands, she devoted herself to furthering their interests in 
life. Thus in 1706 her eldest son, John Selwyn, was offered by 
the Duke of Marlborough a company in the Guards for ^800. 
Mrs Selwyn tried in vain to have the price reduced. Would 
the duke not reduce it for the sake of his old friend and com- 
rade William Selwyn ? But the duke said no : " I have no 
manner of interest in it," he wrote ; " and did it purely out of 
friendship to him, and in memory of his father, which you must 
be sensible of, when you consider that when the Queen permits 
the Captains of the Guards at any time to dispose of their 
commands, they usually do it for more than double that money. 
I could wish Mr Selwin might have it for nothing, but there 
is a necessity of applying this sum at least in charity to the 
widows, and to satisfy other pretensions." Sentiment, in short, 
was all very well, but the greed of the Marlboroughs was a 
stronger motive. 

John Selwyn, then, went into the Guards ; fought at 
Malplaquet (he was A.D.C. to the duke); escaped without a 
scratch; and returned to England in 1710. He purchased his 
colonelcy in the Duke of Argyle's regiment for ^7000 ; but 
after the Peace of Utrecht and the fall of Marlborough he had 
to sell out. His military career closed, and he became a civilian 
and a courtier. On the accession of George I. he was made 
Comptroller of the Customs. This, however, is not the history 
of John Selwyn, but of his son, who made more of a figure in 
the world. We may therefore merely note that he held during 
his life various positions at court : Groom of the Bedchamber 
to George II. ; Treasurer to Queen Caroline ; Treasurer to the 
Duke of Cambridge and the Princesses, and, for a short period 




COLONEL JOHN SELWVN 



M 



BIRTH AND PARENTAGE 15 

before his death, Treasurer to the Prince of Wales. He was 
also M.P. for Gloucester from 1734 until his death in 1751. 
John Selvvyn appears to have been much respected by his 
constituents. A certain alderman of Gloucester, writing to 
George Selwyn after his father's death in 1751, and sending 
him "the usual present of a lamprey-pie from this Corpora- 
tion to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales," asks him to be good 
enough to present it, "as your worthy father used to do." 
In another letter he refers to him as your "dear and ever- 
honoured father." John Selwyn was a kind and amiable 
man, but shrewd, and with a good deal of worldly wisdom. 
He does not escape Horace Walpole's caustic pen. " Old 
John Selwyn is appointed Treasurer to the Prince," he writes 
in 1751, "a shrewd silent man, humane, and reckoned honest: 
if he was he did great honour to his cause, for he made 
his court and his fortune with as much dexterity as those 
who reckon virtue the greatest impediment to worldly success." 
John Selwyn married his cousin, Mary Farrington, daughter 
of General Thomas Farrington and his wife Theodosia. We 
must therefore now go back for a moment to the Bettensons 
and the Farringtons, and to the pleasantly rural Chislehurst 
George Selwyn's " paroisse." Mary Farrington was a child of 
the manor. Her mother's father, Richard Bettenson, was the 
eldest son of Sir Richard Bettenson, who purchased the manor 
of Chislehurst and Scadbury from the Walsinghams about 1660. 
This Richard Bettenson married Albinia Wray, who is only 
mentioned here because she brought from the Cecil family 
into the Bettenson family, and thence into the Selwyn family, 
the Christian name " Albinia," which is to be found among 
the descendants of the Selwyns to this day. Thomas and 
Theodosia had three children : a son, Thomas, and two 
daughters, Albinia and Mary. Thomas Farrington inherited 
the old home, but died in 1758 without issue. His only claim 
to distinction is that he took part in a semi-political brawl 
at Chislehurst church in 1719, which gave Daniel Defoe the 
opportunity of writing a pamphlet. Albinia Farrington made 
a brilliant match. She married Robert Bertie, first Duke of 
Ancaster, and had four sons, one of whom, Lord Robert Bertie, 
inherited " Farrington's " on the death of his uncle Thomas. 
Mary Farrington became Mrs John Selwyn : but the mother 



16 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

of George Selwyn was a remarkable woman, and cannot be 
dismissed so abruptly from these pages. 

Early in life she was one of that brilliant group of women 
who were in attendance upon the Prince and Princess of Wales 
afterwards George II. and Queen Caroline at the "young 
Court" in Leicester Fields and at Richmond. This is not the 
place to speak of that gay, intriguing court, or of the vivacity, 
brilliancy, and it must be said frailty, of its women. Caroline 
of Anspach was bright and clever, and she liked bright and 
clever people about her. George, on the contrary, was not in 
the least bright or clever, and preferred dull German women 
to the vivacious English. Wit and vivacity puzzled the little 
man. But Caroline's friends : " Molly " Lepell, Mary Bellenden, 
Mary Farrington (they were mostly " Marys ") and Mrs Howard 
were all witty, clever and handsome. Read the memoirs of 
John, Lord Hervey, and you will obtain some idea of the 
atmosphere in which these women lived and moved. It was 
not altogether a pleasant atmosphere : but it had its attractions. 
Certainly Mary Farrington remained in it for the best part of 
her active life. Can we make her live and breathe again at 
this distance of time? It is not easy. We learn from the 
memoirs of the period that she was witty and bright in conver- 
sation, which is quite probable. We can imagine her shrieking 
with laughter when the Queen's chaplain gravely protested 
against the " altar-piece " before which he had to read prayers, 
and which happened to be a " Venus " of the Dutch school. Such 
a joke appealed strongly to the Georgian sense of humour. 
Hervey calls Mrs Selwyn a "simple and cunning woman," and 
says that she spied for Sir Robert Walpole. But this is a 
characteristic Hervey touch : that spiteful chronicler seldom 
thought or wrote the best of the people he met, even if they 
happened to be of the Walpole faction. Mrs Selwyn was witty ; 
she was clever ; was she purer and better than some of the 
Court women? Horace Walpole would have us believe not. 
Writing many years after her death he says : " I remember to 
have heard forty years ago that our Gracious Sovereign en- 
trusted Her Royal Highness of Orleans with an intrigue of one 
of her women of the bed-chamber, Mrs S. to wit ; and the 
good Duchess entrusted it to so many other dear friends that 
it at last got into the Utrecht Gazette, and came over hither, tc 




MRS. JOHN SELWYN 



BIRTH AND PARENTAGE 17 

the signal edification of the Court at Leicester Fields." But 
forty-years-old hearsay evidence is not of much value, especially 
when it comes from Horace Walpole's pen. And one distrusts 
post-mortem stories of this kind. We have all heard them, and 
know how easily they can be invented and with what difficulty 
refuted. Mary Selwyn may not have been spotless, but nothing 
has been proved against her character ; and it is pleasant to 
think that the women of the Bettenson line were virtuous in an 
age when virtue was not fashionable. 

The Selwyns' house in Cleveland Court (now Cleveland 
Square), close to St James's Palace, was the resort of the wits, 
beauties, politicians, of George II.'s time. 1 It was the scene 
of a famous encounter between Sir Robert Walpole and Lord 
Townshend in 1727; an encounter which was said to have 
been the original of the "quarrel scene" between Peachum 
and Lockit in The Beggars Opera. The Duke of Newcastle 
and Mr Pelham were present. " My Lord," said Walpole 
angrily, " for once there is no man's sincerity whom I doubt 
so much as your Lordship's, and I never doubted it so much 
as when you are pleased to use such strong expressions." 
Whereupon Peachum Townshend seized Lockit Walpole by 
the collar, and there was an undignified wrestle between the 
two men. Swords were drawn, and would have been used 
but for the intervention of the spectators. But Walpole and 
Townshend were always quarrelling : they quarrelled even in 
the presence of royalty, if we are to believe Hervey. Town- 
shend could not bear to see such a low fellow as Walpole a 
mere "Norfolk dumpling" so powerful in the state; and 
Walpole, for his part, took a malicious delight in poking fun 
at his jealous brother-in-law. 

Mrs Selwyn died in 1777. For years before her death 
she had lived much at Chislehurst with the Townshends, where 
her son George often visited her. " I beg my duty to my 
mother," he writes in I777, 2 " I should be glad to make my 
visits to her more frequent, but I could never come to her, 
but when I was as cheerful as possible." She kept her bright- 
ness and vivacity to the last, although Horace Walpole did 
call her a "dowager" so long before her death as 1750. Both 

1 This house is now numbered 3 Cleveland Square. 

2 Marsham-Townshend MSS. 



18 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

she and Colonel John Selwyn are buried at Matson ; and an 
inscription formerly on their tomb described them as " affection- 
ate parents, kind to their dependants, charitable to the poor 
and faithful and beloved servants of George the Second." 

Colonel and Mrs Selwyn had two other children besides 
George : Albinia, the eldest, and John, the second child. John 
Selwyn was a delicate and amiable man who died in 1751 at the 
early age of forty-two. We know little about him, except that 
he was the friend of Horace Walpole and Henry Conway. " I 
did not hurry myself to answer your last," writes Walpole to 
Conway in 1740, "but chose to write to poor Selwyn upon 
his illness. I pity you excessively upon finding him in such 
a situation : what a shock it must have been to you ! He 
deserves so much love from all that know him, and you owe 
him so much friendship, that I can scarce conceive a greater 
shock." And again in the following year : " You must judge 
by what you feel yourself of what I feel for Selwyn's recovery, 
with the addition of what I have suffered from post to post." 
(Walpole was at Florence at the time.) "But as I find the 
whole town have the same sentiments about him (though I am 
sure few so strong as myself), I will not repeat what you have 
heard so much. I shall write to him to-night, though he 
knows, without my telling him, how very much I love him." 
According to his epitaph at Matson, he was one " whose 
virtues had been the comfort of his parents, and whose death 
shortened the life of his father." John was his father's 
favourite, and seems to have taken after him in character. He 
was quiet, kind and " sensible " : a contrast to his brother 
George, who to anticipate a little was the scapegrace of the 
family. Albinia Selwyn married the Hon. Thomas Townshend, 
third son of the second Lord Townshend, and had five children : 
Albinia, afterwards Lady Midleton ; Thomas, the first Lord 
Sydney ; Mary, the faithful correspondent of her uncle, George 
Selwyn ; Charles, and Henry. We shall hear a great deal more 
of the Townshends during the course of this narrative. Just 
now it is enough to say that they made their home at Chisle- 
hurst, Colonel Selwyn having bought the manor from his wife's 
relatives and settled it upon his daughter and her children. 
Albinia Townshend, however, did not care for the fine old 
Elizabethan house of Scadbury, and persuaded her husband 







ALBINIA, SISTER OF GEORGE SKLWYN, AND WIFE OF THE HON. 
THOMAS TOWNSEND 






BIRTH AND PARENTAGE 19 

to pull it down and build a modern mansion. Mr Townshend 
immemor sepulchri pulled it down accordingly ; but before 
he had built the new house his wife died, being only twenty- 
five years of age. This was in 1739. Nearly fifty years after 
her death, her brother George writing to Mary Townshend 
said : " You have often told me that you would let me have 
a copy of Dr Middleton's letter on the death of my sister. I 
shall be very glad of it, and I am put in mind to ask it by 
a triste recollection of the time of her death, which when 
you receive this will have happened just forty-eight years ago. 
I want to compare the letter with one which we read of Servius 
Sulpicius's to Cicero on a similar occasion. Neither one or 
the other would have answered the purpose intended by them. 
It is not difficult to know Cicero's character. It is impossible 
to be mistaken in Mr Townshend's, and I know myself also in 
that particular, and am sure that the best letter that ever was 
wrote could not then have lightened my grief on that occasion." * 

The death of Albinia Townshend nearly broke her husband's 
heart. He had just been appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, 
but gave up the post at once, and never afterwards took 
another. Nor did he ever build his new house. Instead, he 
took the mansion of Frognal close by, which he afterwards 
purchased, and in which he lived until his death in 1780. Both 
the Scadbury estate and Frognal are still in the possession of 
the Townshend family. 

So much for George Selwyn's parentage and family. Up till 
now the historian has never strayed far from Chislehurst, which, 
in accordance with George's dictum, one always thinks of as 
the real Selwyn-land. But we must not forget the old home of 
the Selwyns at Matson, as the Selwyns themselves too often 
did. Matson is a village situated on a spur of the Cotswold 
Hills, about two and a half miles from Gloucester. The manor 
belonged of old to the abbey and chapter of Gloucester. 
Llanthony Priory granted it under the name of " Mattesdon 
Manor" to the burgesses of Gloucester in 1576, from whom, 
through several hands, it came into the possession of Jasper the 
lawyer in 1597. Jasper seems to have been an exceedingly 
sensible man. Besides doing all the orthodox things in the 
legal world of London, he married Margaret Robbins, the 
1 Marsham-Townshend MSS. 



20 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

daughter of Thomas Robbins, owner of the manor adjoining 
Matson ; " thus," says the chronicler, " acquiring one manor by 
purchase, and the other by marriage." The result was Matson 
as Jasper's descendants knew it : a modest country house and 
estate, without any pretensions to grandeur. 

As the traveller approaches Gloucester by train from London, 
he may see on his right a hill rising with some abruptness from 
the level country around the city. This is Robbins Wood Hill, 
miscalled by Horace Walpole, and many another, " Robin 
Hood's Hill " ; but the hill is named after the Robbins family, 
-sometime lords of the neighbouring manor, and not after the 
outlaw of the Midlands, who knew not Gloucester. " It is 
lofty enough for an Alp," wrote Walpole in 1753, "yet is a 
mountain of turf to the very top ; has woods scattered all over 
it ; springs that long to be cascades in twenty places ; and 
from the summit it beats even Sir George Lytellton's views, by 
having the City of Gloucester at its foot and the Severn widen- 
ing to the horizon. . . . The reservoirs on the hill supply the 
city. The late Mr Selwyn governed the borough with them 
and I believe by some wine too." The reservoirs are still there, 
and they still in part supply the city ; but the borough is 
governed now without any reference to their possible failure. 
Matson House is situated half way up the hill, or perhaps not 
quite that : sufficiently high, however, to give one a wide view 
over the valley. 

Standing in Selwyn's garden, by the Scotch firs planted in 
old days, perhaps by some secret sympathiser with the Stuarts, 
you may gaze into purple distances of wood and vale and hill : 
a scene of soft beauty, difficult to surpass in that or any 
English county. The house is a fine old Tudor mansion, with 
red-tiled roofs, and with many gables. It has been added to 
from time to time, but not, one imagines, since Selwyn's day. 
The rooms are panelled with oak, which some thoughtful 
Philistine person in Georgian days carefully painted over, but 
which has now been just as carefully restored. In the en- 
trance hall a brass plate records how: "Their Majesties 
King George III., Queen Charlotte, the Princess Royal with 
her two sisters Princess Augusta and Princess Elizabeth, came 
into this cottage accompanied by William Duke of Queens- 
berry on Tuesday, July 29th 1788"; and if one mounts the 



BIRTH AND PARENTAGE 21 

stairs to the attic one may see a certain window-sill with 
notches cut deep into the stone. These notches are protected 
by plates of glass, and the inscription below runs : " The notches 
in this window sill were cut by the future Kings Charles II. 
and James II. in their boyhood, when they were living in 
Matson House with their father King Charles I. during the 
siege of Gloucester by the Royal troops in August 1643." For 
the original of this story we must go to the memoirs of Sir 
Nathaniel Wraxall. George Selwyn told Wraxall " that during 
the memorable siege of Gloucester, undertaken by Charles I. 
in 1643, Charles Prince of Wales, and James Duke of York . . . 
who were then boys, remained at Matson." And he added that 
James II., after he came to the throne, used to mention the cir- 
cumstances to his (Selwyn's) grandfather, when he went to 
court ; observing " my brother and I were generally shut up in 
a chamber on the second floor at Matson during the day, where 
you will find that we have left the marks of our confinement 
with our knives on the ledges of all the windows." So that 
this anecdote is better authenticated than most of its kind ; 
and your doubter has always to explain away the notches. 
Walpole records it with a slight variation. "His house," he 
says, speaking of Matson, "is small but neat. King Charles 
lay here during the siege, and the Duke of York, with typical 
fury, hacked and hewed the window shutters of his chamber, as 
a memorandum of his being there." The "typical fury" of 
James is a Horatian touch ; and yet it is a life-like touch : in 
some curious way it makes the narrative convincing. There 
are other historical attractions within Matson House. The 
"King's Room" commemorates Charles I.'s unhappy visit; 
there is " Mie Mie's " Chapel, a tiny apartment with three 
stained-glass windows ; there are even two secret chambers, 
only recently brought to light. Behind the house stands the 
little church, where many Selwyns are buried, and the church- 
yard, very small and quiet. Historical associations apart, there 
is an old-world charm about Matson which is very attractive. 
One must agree entirely with the Rev. William Digby, who 
spent his honeymoon here in 1766, and to whom it appeared 
"another Arcadia. It is really a sweet retreat." But Arcadia 
was not popular with English society in the eighteenth century. 
The country had not been discovered then : or rather, the 



22 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

earlier discoverers had sailed away and their discovery had 
been forgotten, even as the Norsemen abandoned America ages 
before Columbus found it. (Arcadia was rediscovered before 
the end of the century by those stout explorers, Coleridge and 
Wordsworth.) So it happened that the Selwyns spent little 
time at Matson in the county of Gloucester. They were court 
people, and found St James's much more to their taste. The 
house was a convenient stopping place for friends travelling 
in the west of England ; for Walpole and Gilly Williams, and 
honeymooners like the Digbys. George Selwyn would oc- 
casionally run down and spend a few weeks there in the heat 
of the summer. But he "could not live" at Matson in later 
life : he said so himself repeatedly. And in his early years it is 
probable that he did not stray far from Cleveland Court and 
from the friendly roofs of Chislehurst. 



CHAPTER III 

ETON AND OXFORD 

WE first catch a glimpse of the boy Selwyn at Eton, 
which he entered, according to the registers, in 
1728. In that year's list his name appears in the 
first form. At this time Dr Bland was headmaster, he whose 
translation of Cato's soliloquy, published in The Spectator, drew 
from Addison the criticism that " for conciseness, purity, and 
elegance of diction it could not be sufficiently admired." 
Selwyn was also at Eton under Dr George, who married 
Eland's daughter. Dr George was a prodigious Greek scholar ; 
he could " read a newspaper off into Greek," as Selwyn told 
the third Lord Holland, and " knew the Greek for every English 
word except ' mutton cabobbed.' " Under Bland, and con- 
temporary with George Selwyn, were several boys who were 
afterwards to become famous. There was one elegant youth 
of thirteen with "a broad, pale brow, sharp nose and chin, 
large eyes, and a pert expression," whose name was Thomas 
Gray. Gray, it was said, "never was a boy." Perhaps that 
was why his most intimate companion at Eton was Horace 
Walpole, who confesses that he himself was " never quite a 
schoolboy. An expedition against bargemen or a match at 
cricket are very pretty things to recollect ; but thank my 
stars, I can remember things that are near as pretty." In 
Walpole's early letters written while in residence at Cambridge 
we get more than one glimpse of the Eton of his day. He 
speaks of the "Triumvirate": George and Charles Montagu 
and himself; and of an even more intimate and friendly 
body, the Quadruple Alliance. The partners in the " Alliance " 
were Gray ( " Orosmades " ), Richard West ( " Almanzor " ), 
son of the Irish Lord Chancellor West, Thomas Ashton 
(" Plato"), afterwards Rector of St Botolph's, Bishopsgate, 
and Walpole himself ("Tydeus"). Tydeus at Cambridge 
writes to Almanzor at Oxford, giving the news of Plato 
and Orosmades, and desiring in return " a short account of 

2 3 



24 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

the Eton people at Oxford." It is all very fresh and agreeable, 

this picture of boyish friendship. Selwyn, however, does not 

come into the picture at all. Walpole mentions him once 

as " Mr Selwyn," which does not imply any great degree of 

intimacy. But we need not wonder at this. Selwyn was 

two years younger than Walpole, and three years younger 

than Gray ; prodigious differences in age to schoolboys. But 

there was in any case little to attract Selwyn in Gray and 

Walpole. Selwyn was entirely a boy : full of health and 

high spirits, and not in the least bookish. Walpole, on the 

contrary, was quiet, highly-strung, and fond of books. So 

was Gray, who regarded the other boys at Eton as so many 

little victims, playing about in the sunshine regardless of 

their doom. Besides, boys are essentially a clannish folk, 

and Selwyn had probably his own alliances and triumvirates. 

One writer says that his special intimate was " the vivacious 

Hanbury Williams," who was Selwyn's first cousin. " Both 

boys were rather distinguished for fine spirits than for fine 

talents," says he, " they were remarkable for vivacity, quickness, 

and social humour." They were certainly remarkable for these 

qualities in after life, but we know nothing whatever of their 

characters at Eton ; and as Hanbury Williams had left Eton 

two years before Selwyn had entered it, the legend as to 

their school friendship may be at once dismissed. Other 

contemporaries of Selwyn's at school were Henry Conway 

(Walpole's cousin and friend), William Cole the antiquary 

(the " Rev. Mr Cole " of Walpole's correspondence), Richard 

Edgecumbe, and Lord Hertford. But only one authentic glimpse 

of the schoolboy Selwyn do we get, and this was when he 

had ceased to be a schoolboy. In 1741 Mr Henry Reade, an 

assistant master at Eton, writes to him in a quite affectionate 

strain. " Dear George," the letter runs, " an unwillingness 

to write to one's best friends is, of all others, the most oppressive 

and most affecting disease. We are perpetually reproaching 

ourselves for leaving the debt of gratitude unpaid, and at 

the same time cannot bring ourselves to a resolution of clearing 

the account. This has been my condition for these several 

months last past, and though I was every day in danger 

of losing your esteem by not writing, yet such was my 

indolence that though I knew my fault, I had not power to 




I 



25 

correct it." It is true that the bearing of this letter lies in 
an innocent sentence or two slipped in casually near the end. 
" I hear that Mr Thomas Townshend " (Selwyn's brother-in-law) 
"intends soon to send some relation to Eton. If you have 
any interest in the affair, I should be glad of your recommenda- 
tion, and you may depend upon my utmost diligence and best 
endeavours." Nevertheless, when a schoolmaster writes to a 
former pupil as to a " best friend " and is afraid of " losing his 
esteem," it is a fair inference that the pupil has not been 
unattractive. 

In the list of 1732 Selwyn's name appears in the fifth form, 
near the end. After this it disappears. We do not know when 
he left Eton, or what he did in the interval between 1732 and 
1739 ; except that on one occasion, in 1733, he saw the Duchess 
of Portsmouth, Charles II.'s mistress, at Goodwood House, and 
marvelled at the exceedingly well-preserved appearance of the 
old lady. In 1739 he went to Oxford, and was entered at 
Hart Hall, which in 1740 became Hertford College. Many 
of the registers and papers of Hertford were destroyed by 
fire in the year 1820, so that it is impossible to examine the 
original record of Selwyn's admission. But from the "Alumni 
Oxoniensis" we learn that " Selwyn, George Augustus, son 
of John Selwyn of Chislehurst, Kent, arm : matriculated at 
Hart Hall, 1st February 1738-9, aged 19." 

What decided Selwyn to go to Oxford rather than Cam- 
bridge we do not know. It was rather a curious choice for one 
who was a Whig by descent on both sides of the family. At 
this time all good Whigs men like Walpole and Gray and 
Mason went to Cambridge. Oxford was Tory and Jacobite ; 
Cambridge was effusively Hanoverian. Jacobitism died slowly 
in Oxford, partly for the reason that it was a " lost cause " 
such as Oxford loves, but principally for the reason that 
Whiggery coloured the other university. Consider the position 
m 1739. Twenty years before that date Thomas Warton the 
First had preached his famous sermon upon the text "Justice 
beareth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things, 
restoreth all things": a rank Jacobite sermon, in which 
the preacher hinted not obscurely at restoration, while at 
the same time he kept skilfully from direct political reference. 
" Men praised it as the boldest and most guarded sermon that 



26 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

had ever been heard at Oxford : the Masters waved their caps 
to the preacher as he passed through them out of church, and 
his health was drunk in every common-room." l Of course 
it did not mean very much : university enthusiasm of a 
political kind never does. But in 1719 it was more than 
picturesque to be Jacobite: it was good policy. You could, 
for example, be gently and unobtrusively converted by the 
gift of a deanery or a bishopric, or by court preferment, or by 
being sent as ambassador to the Turks or the Dutch. Walpole 
knew how to arrange these little things. Again, in 1719, the 
Hanoverians were not yet very comfortable upon the English 
throne. Nobody really liked these German people. Anything 
might happen. But in 1739 nothing had happened, except 
that Walpole had bribed, coaxed, and manoeuvred England 
into loyalty to the Georges. Picturesqueness was fast becoming 
the only striking quality attaching to Jacobitism, especially 
at Oxford. We see this in the '45, when Prince Charles and 
his Highlanders marched to Derby. What did Oxford do? 
The answer is, exactly nothing. That is not quite accurate 
however ; for on the authority of the Rev. Mr Mason, a Whig, 2 
and a Cambridge man, she held " infernal orgies " : 

" See Hydra faction spread its impious reign, 
Poison each breast and madden every brain. 
Hence frontless crowds that, not content to fright 
The blushing Cynthia from her throne of might, 
Blast the fair face of day ; and, madly bold, 
To freedom's foes infernal orgies hold, 
To freedom's foes, ah, see the goblet crowned ! 
Hear plausive shouts to freedom's foes resound." 

Oxford was crowning goblets, while the poor Highlanders 

1 J. R. Green, " Oxford Studies." 

2 Dr Johnson : " Mason is a Whig, sir." 

Mrs Knoivles (not hearing quite distinctly) : " A prig, sir, did you say ? " 
Johnson : " No, madam, a Whig, but he is that too." And so he was. 
" Years afterwards," says Green, " Mason was entering Oxford on horse- 
back, and, as he passed Magdalen Bridge, he turned to his companion to 
express his satisfaction that the darkness of the evening would allow them 
to enter the town unnoticed. His friend was puzzled to conjecture what the 
advantage of this could be. 'What?' rejoined the poet, 'don't you re- 
member my Isis ? ' " (The poem quoted from above.) 






ETON AND OXFORD 27 

were dying in the north. But she had still one or two vigorous 
Jacobites of the academic kind left. Such was Tom Warton 
the Second, that " singular combination of the scholar and the 
buffoon, the hard reader and deep drinker." You are to imagine 
him as a " little, thick, squat, red-faced man," with " a gobble 
like a turkey-cock," as Johnson said. Tom was a Tory like his 
father, and refused to allow the Reverend Mr Mason to have 
the last word. He wrote : 



" Let Granta boast the patrons of her name, 
Each splendid foe of fortune or of fame. 
Still of preferment, let her shine the Queen, 
Prolific parent of each bowing Dean ; 
Be hers each prelate of the pampered cheek, 
Each courtly chaplain, sanctified and sleek, 
Still let the drones of her exhaustless hive 
On rich pluralities supinely thrive." 

But Granta and Isis went on being Whig and Tory respect- 
rely, till the accession of George III., when Jacobitism in 
)xford died a natural death. It expired when Dr King, 
)rincipal of St Mary's Hall, and leader of the Jacobites, joined 
in the address to his Majesty. Yet Green does well to remind 
us that Oxford Jacobitism, futile and ineffective as it was, was 
preferable to the soulless political conformity that fell upon the 
University in later Georgian days. 

Such, politically, was Oxford when Selwyn entered Hertford 
College in 1739. Let us keep him upon the threshold for a 
little longer, while we glance at the University as Selwyn 
found it. To us it is an almost incredible Oxford. Someone 
has said that, of all the Oxfords, the eighteenth-century Oxford 
is the most difficult for modern men to realise. The mediaeval 
Oxford, with its monks and priests and poor scholars, and 
its atmosphere of cloistered learning and peace, is intelligible 
and attractive ; seventeenth-century Oxford, with its bubbling 
political life, we can understand ; but who shall interpret for 
us the Oxford of the Georges ? You look at the city and its 
colleges, and see men as trees walking. A twilight is over the 
place. There are no great teachers or preachers ; no " move- 



ments" ; no life of the mind, or of the spirit. Dons drowse and 
drink in common-rooms ; professors lecture to empty benches, 
or do not lecture at all ; students fuddle their time away in 
taverns and coffee-houses ; clergymen go mechanically through 
the exercises of the Church to yawning and indifferent 
congregations. Nothing matters. Educationally, Oxford has 
sunk to a sorry level. Read the satirical tracts of the day, and 
observe what the writers thought of 'varsity education. " Terrae 
Filius," whose proper name was Amherst, an extremely pert 
and amusing young gentleman, will relate his experiences as 
an undergraduate in search of learning. " I ask'd whether it 
was usual now and then to slip a lecture or so : his answer was 
that he had not seen the face of any lecturer in any faculty, 
except in poetry and music, for three years past, that all 
lectures beside were entirely neglected ; both of great conse- 
quence : especially the first, as it is performed by so ingenious 
and accomplished a proficient." Mr Amherst's friend graciously 
made an exception in favour of Thomas Warton the First, not 
because the subject was important, but because the professor 
was such fun. Nobody attended the lectures, and so the 
lectures were never held. At the end of three years the 
students " supplicated for a dispensation " which they obtained 
on payment of a fee. " There ought to be some qualification," 
comments Amherst, " to wear them " (degrees) " besides perjury, 
treason, and paying a multitude of fees " that is to say, besides 
subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles, Jacobitism, and dis- 
pensations. If someone objects that "Terrae Filius" is not to 
be taken seriously, let us call other evidence. Let us go to the 
locus classicus of complaints against the university of Oxford 
in the eighteenth century : the memoirs of Edward Gibbon. 
Gibbon entered Magdalen as a gentleman commoner in 1752. 
" To the University of Oxford," he says, " I acknowledge no 
obligation, and she will as cheerfully renounce me for a son, as 
I am willing to disclaim her for a mother. I spent fourteen 
months at Magdalen College, they proved the fourteen months 
the most idle and unprofitable of my whole life. . . . The 
fellows or monks of my time were decent easy men, who 
supinely enjoyed the gifts of the founder. Their conversation 
stagnated in a round of college business, Tory politics, personal 
anecdotes, and private scandal : their dull and deep potations 






ETON AND OXFORD 29 

excused the brisk intemperance of youth ; and their constitu- 
tional toasts were not expressive of the most lively loyalty to 
the House of Hanover. . . . During the first week I constantly 
attended these lessons in my tutor's room, but as they appeared 
equally devoid of profit and pleasure, I was once tempted to 
try the experiment of a formal apology. The apology was 
accepted with a smile. I repeated the offence with less cere- 
mony ; the excuse was admitted with the same indulgence : 
the slightest motive of laziness or indisposition, the most tri- 
fling avocation at home or abroad, was allowed as a worthy 
impediment. ... It is whimsical enough that as soon as I 
left Magdalen College my taste for books began to revive." 
On the whole, this was a heavy indictment to draw against 
a university. 

But in one thing the Oxford of Selwyn's day did not differ 
much from that of our own day : in the social life of the under- 
graduates. Oxford is eternally young. Georgian twilight 
notwithstanding, the youthful barbarians of 1739 were very 
much like those you will meet to-day between Carfax and 
Magdalen. They came up to Oxford to enjoy themselves. 
Well, their pleasures were different from ours, and not, perhaps, 
so healthy. They had no cricket, no athletics, and no rowing. 
Instead, they had " cocking " and horses, and gaming, and 
drinking at taverns, and making believe to be fine gentlemen 
from London. "Terrae Filius" paints the freshman for us in 
his " new suit of drugget, his pair of prim ruffles, new bob wig, 
and brazen-hilted sword," swaggering at coffee-houses. He 
soon becomes a "smart." "Rising late in an age of early 
risers " l most people at Oxford were out of bed in those days 
at six or seven " the smart's breakfast is scarce over by ten. . . . 
Then he is strolling to Lyne's coffee-house . . . where at the 
risk of inked ruffles, he indites a billet-doux or a stanza to the 
reigning Sylvia of the town. From Lyne's he saunters for a 
turn or two upon the Park or under Merton Wall, while the 
dull regulars, the ' slow ' fellows are at dinner in hall according 
to statute." A little dinner in his rooms at one o'clock prepares 
the "smart" for the great business of the afternoon. "The 
afternoon is spent by our exquisite in learning the news of the 
town or parading before the windows of a toast. He drinks a 
1 Green, "Oxford Studies." 



dram of citron at Hamilton's, and saunters off at last to chapel, 
to shew how genteely he dresses, and how well he can chaunt." 
After chapel, tea, and a stroll with Sylvia in Magdalen walks. 
Then supper, and then " he turns to the less refined pleasures 
of the night. He is seen, one of the group round the table at 
the Mitre or the Tuns ; is loud in his song, deep in puns, put, 
or cards, toasts his mistress in the spiced cup, with the brown 
toast bobbing in it, or staggers home to his college ' a toper all 
night as he trifles all day.' " Such was a typical day and night 
of the Oxford "smart" of the eighteenth century. The ex- 
periences of Shenstone, a quiet practical sort of a man, who 
entered Pembroke in 1732, convince us that this was no fancy 
picture. He attended first " a sober little party," who amused 
themselves in the evening by "reading Greek and drinking 
water." This he left for " a very different party : a set of jolly, 
sprightly young fellows, most of them West-country lads who 
drank ale, smoked tobacco, and sang bacchanalism catches 
the whole evening : our pious orgies generally began with : 

" ' Let's be jovial, fill our glasses, 
Madness 'tis for us to think 
How the world is ruled by asses 
And the wisest swayed by chink.'" 

This not being sufficiently aristocratic, Shenstone joined the 
" gentlemen commoners " party. " They treated me with port 
wine and arrack punch, and now and then, when they had 
drank so much as hardly to distinguish wine from water, they 
would conclude with a bottle or two of claret. They kept late 
hours, drank their favourite toast on their knees, and in short 
were what were then called ' bucks of the first head.' . . ." 1 

This world of port wine and arrack punch, of toasts and 
coffee-houses and taverns, was, as we shall see, George Selwyn's 
world at Oxford. It was the world of the gentleman commoner : 
of the young exquisite with the golden tuft in his velvet cap, 
excusing him from chapel and lecture. There were other 
worlds, as Shenstone has indicated. "There was besides a sort 
of flying squadron of plain sensible matter of fact men, confined 
to no club, but associating occasionally with each party. They 

1 " Memoir of Shenstone," by Richard Graves. 



ETON AND OXFORD 31 

anxiously enquired after the news of the day and the politics of 
the times. They had come to the University in their way to 
the Temple, or to get a slight smattering of the sciences before 
they settled in the country. They were a good sort of young 
people, and perhaps the most rational of the college." Was 
Samuel Johnson a member of this " flying squadron " ? It is 
the only set in which we can place him, unless he belonged 
to the sober people who learned Greek and drank water. Or 
perhaps he was too poor and too proud to belong to any party ; 
that is likely, when we remember his savage refusal of what 
Boswell called " an eleemosynary offering of shoes." (Johnson 
had just left Pembroke as Shenstone entered it.) But to 
complete our picture of Oxford life at this time, we must refer 
to one or two men who were certainly unclassed. Smarts like 
Selwyn and Foote probably never heard of them ; yet they were 
destined one day toshake England : not perhaps to shakeSelwyn's 
England (tremors only reached that preserve), but certainly to 
shake the England of the common people. These were, of 
course, John and Charles Wesley and their friends. John Wesley 
had entered Christ Church in 1720, and had graduated in 1726, 
in which year his brother Charles followed him to Oxford. But 
nearer Selwyn's day, in 1732, there came to Oxford a man five 
years older than Selwyn, and from the same city in the west, 
George Whitefield. Whitefield began life as potman in his father's 
public-house at Gloucester. At the age of eighteen he entered 
Pembroke College as a servitor, which status was a whole universe 
removed from that of a gentleman commoner. Hardly anything 
could give one a greater sense of contrast than to turn from, say, 
the pages of Nicholas Amherst to the pages where Whitefield 
records his Oxford experiences. We are out of the world of 
toasts and taverns with a vengeance. " I had not been long at 
the University before I found the benefit of the foundation I 
had laid in the country for a holy life. I was quickly solicited 
to joyn in their excess of riot with several who lay in the same 
room. God, in answer to prayers before put up, gave me grace 
to withstand them ; and once in particular it being cold, my 
limbs were so benumbed by sitting alone in my study because 
I would not go out amongst them that I could scarce sleep all 
night. But I soon found the benefit of not yielding ; for when 
they perceived they could not prevail, they let me alone as a 



singular, odd fellow. . . . The young men so called (Methodists) 
were then much talked of at Oxford. I had heard of, and loved 
them, before I came to the University, and so strenuously 
defended them when I heard them reviled by the students that 
they began to think that I also in time should be one of them." 
Charles Wesley invited Whitefield to breakfast, and he soon 
became "one of them." "The course of my studies I soon 
entirely changed. Whereas before I was busy in studying the 
dry sciences" Oxford was strangely devoted to the "dry 
sciences " in these days " and books that went no further than 
the surface, I was resolved to read only such as entered into 
the heart of religion. ... I daily underwent some contempt at 
college. Some have thrown dirt at me ; others by degrees took 
away their pay from me ; and two friends that were dear unto 
me, grew shy of and forsook me." Pathetic words, these. 
While we remember the "smart" drinking arrack punch and 
toasting his mistress, and while we insist upon him as the really 
characteristic Oxford type, we must not forget the poor servitor 
of Pembroke, wandering in Christ Church meadows of nights, 
and gravely concerned about his sins. 

When George Selwyn entered Hart Hall in 1739, its principal 
was the Rev. Richard Newton, and there was no more vigorous 
head of a college at Oxford. Newton was a personality. To 
begin with, he was what Hearne called "founder-mad." After 
a good deal of trouble he obtained a charter for his hall, and it 
became Hertford College in 1740. But Newton was far more 
than a pious founder. He had ideas about university education, 
and believed in the simple life both for students and for dons in 
an age when simplicity was not advertised as a virtue. Thus 
when Mr Joseph Somaster wanted to leave Hart Hall for 
" Baliol " because, inter alia, " he could live cheaper there," Dr 
Newton issued a dignified defence of Hart Hall as a home for 
poor students. " I am moreover very willing," he wrote, " that 
Baliol College should be esteemed as cheap a House of Learning 
as any in either university ; but I am not willing that Baliol or 
any other college whatsoever should be thought a cheaper place 
to live in than Hart Hall, because I do not think it possible." 
He then sets out Somaster's expenses for a quarter: they 
amounted to the not extravagant sum of 7, 175. id., including 
rent, tuition, dues, wages, commons and bottels. " After this 



ETON AND OXFORD 33 

manner did this Commoner live in Hart Hall, and after this 
manner, within a trifle over or under (and, if an instance be 
produced to the contrary, I will be bound to give a satisfactory 
reason for it), have other commoners lived, and do still live, in 
Hart Hall ; and after this manner, whenever my family are not 
with me, which sometimes they are not for a fortnight or three 
weeks together, do / myself live in Hart Hall. Upon these 
occasions I hardly ever dine or sup out of the common refectory ; 
I neither vary the meat, nor exceed the proportion that is set 
before the lowest commoner. Tenpence a day hath paid for 
my breakfast, dinner and supper, even when there is Ale in the 
society, which now there is not. I have, thank God, as good 
health as any man in England, and as good an appetite as any 
member of the community ; and for a constancy would rather 
live in this manner in Hart Hall, so far as relates to eating and 
drinking, than at any nobleman's table in Europe. If young 
scholars can live cheaper in Baliol College, I must submit, for 
I do not pretend that they can live cheaper at Hart Hall." It 
was to this kind of life that Selwyn came at the age of twenty. 
He was not a " poor student " like Somaster. He was superioris 
ordinis commensalis a gentleman commoner, privileged to 
wear a velvet gown and cap with a gold tassel, licensed to stay 
away from chapel and lectures when it pleased him. It often 
did please him. And it is probable that the simple fare of the 
common refectory was supplemented by the more various food 
and drink of the tavern and the coffee-house. It is probable, too, 
that George was a good friend to the Oxford tradesmen. At 
all events, in the following year we find that Selwyn had been 
seriously in debt more than once since his arrival at Oxford. In 
1740 his father writes to him as follows : 

Thursday (1740) 

DEAR GEORGE, I am disposed once more to pay your debts, 
which is what you have no pretensions to ask. Let me know 
what your Oxford bills amount to, that they may be paid first, 
and I will remit the money to you ; but don't always expect to 
be answered next post, for I have too much business to answer 
all letters next post, and yours is of a nature that I think does 
not merit punctuality. I am yours, J. S. 

" To Mr GEO. SELWYN, 
at Hart Hall, Oxon." 
c 



34 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

To which George replies : 

" SIR, I am sensible, I have been very careless and indis- 
creet in contracting so many debts, and frankly own that many, 
if not most of them, have been unnecessary. But nothing grieves 
me so much as that you should think it indifferent to me whether 
you are pleased or displeased with what I do. No son in the 
world can be more convinced than I am of your great affection 
for me, and of your readiness to comply with every reasonable 
desire I have had, particularly this of your condescending to 
pay my debts so quickly, though amounting to so great a sum. 
However, I beg to observe to you, that those in London do not 
amount to so much by half as Mr Goodchild has set forth, and 
before they are paid I shall be glad of an opportunity to remon- 
strate against some articles. 

" I shall be ready to wait upon you whenever you command 
me, and, for what is past, beg you will only remember it when 
you find it repeated. I am, etc., etc." 

Is not this a very proper letter ? Is there not something 
manly and sensible about it? If I were a father with a son at 
Oxford and about to pay his debts, I should like to get from 
him just such a letter. And please to observe that this is the 
first occasion in this volume upon which George Selwyn appears 
and speaks, or purports to speak, for himself. This first appear- 
ance would be entirely satisfactory if we did not notice that the 
letter is endorsed (presumably by George himself) : " Copy of 
a letter to my father, penned by Dr Newton, 1740." Penned 
by Dr Newton ! It was the Principal of Hertford who gave 
such a comely form to the prodigal's repentance. But I do not 
think that the letter was entirely his. Observe that delightfully 
ingenuous touch about being " glad of an opportunity to remon- 
strate against some articles." Nobody but the prodigal could 
have suggested that. 

Between 1741 and 1745 Selwyn's movements again become 
mysterious. For some reason or other he had left the uni- 
versity, temporarily, and had gone abroad. It was not the Grand 
Tour, for he appears never to have strayed far from Paris. At 
least he was there for about twelve months, from the autumn of 
1742 to the summer of the following year. But without waiting 
to suggest an explanation of his wanderings, let us see what 
happened. From his letters we learn that he was invariably in 




GEORGE SELWYN AS A YOUNG MAN 



ETON AND OXFORD 35 

want of money. He finds it difficult to make both ends meet 
on "two hundred and twenty pounds a year, which I should 
otherwise think a competent allowance." He writes to his 
London agent, Mr Vincent Mathias, " to beg that if you know 
any means by which I can obtain of my father a sum of money 
over and above my yearly income, that I may be a little before 
time in my affairs, you will be so kind as to inform me of them. 
... In respect to my circumstances, when I consider how much 
all kind of economy was a stranger to me, and that carelessness 
and dissipation were by long use become almost natural, it is 
surprising to me that I have been able to keep within bounds 
as much as I have." He is in " extreme want of clothes," but 
thinks " it is useless to be very circumstantial upon this subject, 
since everybody's own reflections must easily suggest to them 
how many difficulties and necessities a person labours under 
who never has the present enjoyment of one shilling ; and if my 
father has not entirely withdrawn his affection from me, I am 
certain he will think it a case that deserves his consideration." 
Three months later (January 1743) he again refers to "the many 
difficulties and mortifying circumstances which a want of money 
has, and does still expose me to " ; and in March of the same 
year he is still in trouble. " If I cannot obtain any assistance 
from my father in such a necessity as this, I shall really think 
it a very hard case, especially as I have been guilty of no 
extravagance to reduce me to it ; for if I was obliged to live in 
a more frugal manner than I have done since I have been in 
Paris, I do not know whether living in a cave might not be just 
as agreeable. I am conscious of having neglected to write to 
my family in Cleveland Court a great while, but it has not pro- 
ceeded from any indifference or want of affection, but really a 
want of knowing what would be most proper to say to them in 
my present circumstances." These are letters of a typical 
prodigal. The prodigal is always in difficulties ; it is never his 
own fault (has he not been marvellously economical ?) ; and at 
the back of his brain he cherishes a little grievance that an 
affectionate parent has not been more prompt and liberal in his 
payments. In this case, however, the parent seems to have 
relented ; for in July of this same year, Miss Anne Pitt (sister 
of William), writing to Selwyn from Argeville, is "extremely 
glad to find, by the letter you do me the favour to write me, 



36 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

that you have reason to be satisfied with the disposition of your 
father towards you. I can pretend to no merit in this, but 
desiring to have the truth represented to him concerning you." 
Miss Pitt had evidently been acting as mediatrix between father 
and son. " It is certain that the happiness of your whole life 
depends upon your being well with Mr and Mrs Selwyn, which 
I heartily wish, for their sakes as well as yours." So the 
prodigal returned to his father's house in Cleveland Court, and 
no doubt was received, as most prodigals are, with open arms. 

After this interval of wandering, Selwyn went back to 
Hertford College in 1744, or early in 1745. " I hope you divert 
yourself well at the expense of the whole university," wrote his 
cousin Sir Charles Hanbury Williams; "though the object is 
not worthy you. The dullest fellow in it has parts enough to 
ridicule it, and you have parts to fly at nobler game " : as who 
should say : " You are a man of the world ; you are wasted at 
the 'varsity : town is the place for you." Well, George Selwyn 
was certainly " diverting himself" at Oxford : but it was entirely 
at his own expense. The University laughed last and longest, 
as we shall see in a moment. For a few months Selwyn, no 
doubt, had a good time. He was " Bosky " to his friends and 
comrades, and no frolic was complete without him. Thus in 
April 1745, Viscount Downe writes to him that he has " prevailed 
upon Lord Abergavenny and Assheton to be of our party. If 
you will have your horse at Juggins's at eleven we will meet you. 
A ride is very agreeable this morning, but much more when we 
find it particularly so to you, the place of dining we will fix 
upon when mounted." Alas, poor " Bosky " ! Soon after this 
his career at Oxford terminated abruptly, and the coffee-houses, 
the clubs, and Magdalen walks, knew him no more. Towards 
the end of May something happened, something so serious that 
Selwyn immediately left Oxford for London until the storm 
should blow over. But the storm did not blow over. Dr 
Newton removed his name from the books of Hertford College, 
although he generously allowed the fiction to go forth to the 
world that it was Selwyn's "own desire." "The Principal 
having signified to me," writes the Bursar of Hertford in June, 
"that it was your desire that your name should not be con- 
tinued in the book of my office longer than the end of this 
quarter, I beg leave to acquaint you that it is left out accord- 



ETON AND OXFORD 37 

ing to your request ; and that there is due to the House 
;5, I is. 6d. and to myself for coal 8s., in all -$, igs. 6d." The 
event was not long delayed. At the end of July George Selwyn 
was publicly expelled from the University of Oxford, and all 
and singular the scholars and others were warned not to have 
anything to do with that abandoned person. 

The details of this affair have never before been made public, 
although it has not been entirely a mystery. From letters 
printed by Mr Jesse it was known that Selwyn had been drink- 
ing at a tavern, and that, in some way or other, he had ridiculed 
the rite of Holy Communion. But that was practically all. 
Ideas were vague as to where, or when, the orgie had taken 
place, or who were present and took part in it. It has all been 
preserved, however, in the records of Convocation, now printed 
for the first time. Here is the story and its sequel, told in the 
judicial language of the University. 

(2Qth July 1745) 

x Die lunae viz vicesimo nono mensis julii A Dom : 1745 
causa convocations erat ut Georgius Augustus Selwyn nuper e 
collegio Hertfordiensi Superioris ordinis commensalis gravis- 
simi criminis insimulatus, quatenus institutionem coenae domini 
nostri Jesu Christi contumolioso et impio tractaverit tarn nefandi 
facinoris Hanc Domum ultricem sentiret 

Imprimis lecta erat Accusatio Tenoris subsequentis 
The crimes wherewith George Augustus Selwyn, late of 
Hertford College, Gentleman Commoner, standeth charged, are 
these (viz.). 

1. That on the twenty-first day of May last past, being 
drinking at a club, in company with several young noblemen 
and gentlemen of this University, at the house of one Charles 
Deverelle (?), an unlicensed seller of wines, near St Martin's 
Church in the City of Oxford, he the said George Augustus 
Selwyn did impiously affect to personate our Blessed Saviour, 
in His Institution of the Holy Sacrament; and did ludicrously 
and profanely apply the words used by our Saviour at the said 
Institution, to the intemperate purposes of the said club. 

2. That he the said George Augustus Selwyn did then and 
there take an old cup or chalice, which he had with no small 
pains provided for this wicked end, and did pour red wine into 
the same, and did cause the said Charles Deverelle to drink of 

1 Acta Convocat. Univ. Oxon. Arch. 1745. 



38 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

the said wine in the said cup or chalice ; and upon his, the said 
Selwyn's delivery of the said cup or chalice into the hands of 
him the said Deverelle, he the said Selwyn made use of these 
words, " Drink this in remembrance of me " or words to that 
effect. 

3. That the said George Augustus Selwyn did afterwards 
then and there take the said cup or chalice, and having made 
signs as though he was blooding at one of his arms, did apply 
the neck of a bottle of wine into the said arm, from whence the 
said wine did gently distill into the said cup or chalice ; where- 
upon the said Selwyn was heard to say, " It bloods freely," and 
that upon the refusal of one of the company to drink out of the 
said cup or chalice, he the said Selwyn did address himself unto 
that Person so refusing and upon this occasion did make use 
of these words, " Here's my body, Hoc est corpus meum you 
know what it is in Greek " or to that effect. 

The truth of all which will appear by the several depositions 
taken in this behalf, and which are as follows : 

LINCOLN COLLEGE 
OXFORD 

The Deposition of Charles Deverelle 

This examinant saith that at a meeting of a club of gentle- 
men at his house on the twenty-first day of May last past im- 
mediately after dinner, a cup, which he heard some of the 
gentlemen say they took for a Communion plate, was going 
about with the Health of prosperity to the club, and that he 
heard one, whom he took to be Mr Selwyn, say that he would 
drink a bumper out of it, for he was resolved to have his Body 
full of wine, that he called for a Bottle of wine all which he this 
Examinant thinks Mr Selwyn drank, and that he afterwards 
called for another which a boy then in waiting carried to him, 
that this Examinant took Mr Selwyn to be in Liquour or to be 
ignorant of what he was about. 

The contents of the above are 

trew to the best of my knowledge. 

CH. DEVERELLE 

Sworn before me this nineteenth 
day of July 1745. 

Eus. ISHAM 
(i.e. Eusebius Isham, Rector of Lincoln). 



ETON AND OXFORD 39 

The Deposition of John Parker 

The Examinant saith that on the day mentioned in Mr 
Deverelle's Deposition he waited on the Club at dinner, and 
that immediately after Dinner Mr Selwyn sent him to Mr 
Wilkins the goldsmith to borrow a cup, and that he returned 
with a new cup with two Handles to it, that Mr Selwyn upon 
sight of it told him that it was not the Cup which he meant and 
swore two or three times at him for mistaking and sent him 
back again for the old Cup, which he saw in the shop, with 
which the said Examinant returned and out of which Mr Selwyn 
began a health, but what Health he could not tell. 

JOHN PARKER 
Sworn before me 
the i Qth Day of July 1745. 

Eus. ISHAM. 

The Examination of the Honble. David Murray taken the 
fourteenth day of July 1745 

Mr Murray says that he saw nothing or heard nothing 
of the cup till it was produced after dinner or about that 
time, that he remembers nothing that was said to the man 
of the House whilst he drank but he saw Mr Selwyn pour 
wine from a bottle under his arm into the cup and heard 
him say that he bled very freely, or that it bloods freely, 
and that this was drunk by Mr Selwyn himself; no other 
gentleman that he knows of drank any wine pour'd out in 
that manner besides that soon after this Mr Murray left 
the company and so (sic) no more of Mr Selwyn till he 
met him at the Coffee house, as he verily believes, before four 
o'clock ; when the said Mr Selwyn appeared to be by several 
of his actions very much in Liquour. And the said Mr Murray 
has been inform'd by Mr Selwyn's companions that he is 
accustomed to drink a great deal at dinner. D. MURRAY * 

Sworn before me, 

the Day above written. 

Eus. ISHAM 

The Deposition of the Right Honble. Tho. Ld. Harley 

This Examinant saith that on the twenty-first day of May 
last past or thereabouts, at a meeting of several gentlemen 
at Mr Deverelle's house immediately after dinner Mr Selwyn 
1 Son of the Earl of Mansfield. 



40 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

drank in Rhenish wine, and put about a Health viz. Prosperity 
to the Club in a Cup which the said Examinant took to be 
a Communion plate, and did not upon that account drink 
out of it ; and that it being customary for the man of the 
House to drink the said Health, red wine was put into a half- 
pint glass, which Mr Selwyn afterwards poured into the Cup 
and gave it to Mr Deverelle with these or the like words, 
" Take or Do this in Remembrance of Us." Moreover this 
Examinant saith that he did not perceive that Mr Selwyn, 
when this was done, was concerned in Liquour, and that the 
said Examinant believing the said cup to be a communion 
plate did, soon after the said words were mention'd by Mr 
Selwyn to Mr Deverelle, leave the Room. HARLEY 

Sworn before me the igth Day of July 1745. Eus. ISHAM 

The Deposition of the Hble. Mr Rich, Leveson Gower 

This Examinant saith at the time and in the place men- 
tion'd in Lord Harley's deposition immediately after dinner 
Mr Selwyn drank a Cup, which the said Examinant supposed 
to be a Roman Catholic Communion Plate, of Rhenish to the 
Prosperity of the Club, and that it being customary for the man 
of the House to drink the said Health red wine was poured 
into the said Cup, which the said Mr Deverelle drank, and 
this Examinant saith that soon after Mr Selwyn lent his arm 
and applied the bottle to it letting the wine run gently out 
of the bottle into the Cup saying " it bloods freely " and 
that talking of the Roman Catholick way of Communion he 
cross'd himself on the Forehead saying the Roman Catholicks 
did so when they went into Church and that Hocus Pocus 
came from Hoc est Corpus meum meaning thereby to ridicule 
as this Examinant supposed the Roman Catholick way of 
Communion : moreover the said Examinant saith that he 
supposed Mr Selwyn to be very much disorder'd with Liquour. 

RD. LEVESON GOWER x 
Sworn before me 
the iQth Day of July 1745. 

Eus. ISHAM 

LINCOLN COLLEGE, OXFORD 
July 1 8th, 1745 

The Deposition of Richard Ed. Hunt, Student of Christ Church 

This Examinant saith that at a meeting of a club of several 
gentlemen of the University of Oxford at Charles Deverelle's 
1 Fourth son of John, first Earl Gower ; born 1726, died 1753. 



ETON AND OXFORD 



41 



near St Martin's Church in the City of Oxford on the 2ist 
day of May 1745 or thereabouts as he supposes immediately 
after dinner George Augustus Selwyn of Hertford College in 
the said University fill'd a Cup which he the said Richard 
Ed. Hunt took to be a piece of Communion plate with wine, and 
drank as he the said Richard Ed. Hunt supposed prosperity to 
the Club that he the said Richard Ed. Hunt did not drink it 
out of that Cup, imagining it an improper one to be made 
use of on that occasion, and this Examinant further saith 
that to the best of his Remembrance the said George Augustus 
Selwyn delivered the said Cup with red wine in it to the 
said Charles Deverelle (it being customary for the man of 
the House to drink the said Health) and said " Drink this 
in remembrance of me (e.g. us)" or words to that effect and 
afterwards applied the neck of the bottle to his Arm and made 
signs of blooding by a motion of his Fingers and pouring 
the Red wine in small quantities. He next applied himself 
to the said Examinant saying " Here's my body Hoc est 
corpus meum " and " you know what it is in Greek " or words 
to that effect. RD. ED. HUNT 

Sworn before me this 
eighteenth day of July 1745. 

EUS. ISHAM 

The Deposition of Thomas Prichard, Scholar of Trinity College 

This Examinant saith that he was at the meeting above 
mention'd in Mr Ed. Hunt's deposition and that he heard the 
above named George Augustus Selwyn, upon the delivery of 
the above mention'd cup to the above mentioned Charles 
Deverelle say " Drink this in Remembrance of Us," and also 
that he the said Examinant saw the Bottle under the said 
George Augustus Selwyn's arm, but cannot say further in 
relation to that or anything else. THOMAS PRICHARD 

Sworn before me 

the 1 8th Day of July 1745. 

Eus. ISHAM 

The Deposition of Mr T. Ashton (sic) Gentleman Commoner 
ofB. N. College 

This Examinant saith that on the twenty-first day of May 
last past at a meeting of several gentlemen at Mr Deverelle's 
House immediately after Dinner Mr Selwyn of Hertford Col- 



42 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

lege sent to Mr Wilkins for a cup, the messenger returning with 
a wrong cup was sent back again for an old Cup which Mr 
Selwyn had seen in his shop with which the messenger return'd, 
that this Examinant took the said cup to be a Chalice, that 
Mr Selwyn filled it with Rhenish wine and drank prosperity to 
the Club, that he applied a bottle to his arm and made signs of 
blooding, and addressing himself to Mr Ed. Hunt said " Hoc 
est corpus meum" or words to that effect, and "you know 
what it is in Greek" and this Examinant farther saith that 
Mr Selwyn was then much concerned in Liquour having, as 
this Examinant believes, drank to his own share near two 
bottles of Rhenish at dinner, moreover this Examinant saith 
that Mr Selwyn did this, as he imagines to ridicule the Holy 
Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. 

THOS. ASSHETON 

Lincoln College. 
Sworn before me this 
28th Day of July 1745. 

EUS. ISHAM 

The said Examinant likewise saith that he did not appre- 
hend Mr Selwyn to be so much disordered in Liquour as not 
to know what he did. 

THOS. ASSHETON 

Deinde lectum erat Decretum Tenon's subsequentis 

Whereas George Augustus Selwyn late of Hertford College, 
Gentleman Commoner hath been accused and convicted before 
. . the Rev. Dr Isham Vice Chancellor, the Heads of 
Selwyn Colleges and Halls and the Proctors of this Uni- 
versity of certain Facts betokening a Habit of mind 
Stamp abandon'd to the most horrible impiety ; and par- 
ticularly of ridiculing and prophaning the Institution 
of the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper in the 
presence of several young gentlemen, in the House of one 
Charles Deverelle near St Martin's Church in the City of 
Oxford on the 2ist day of May 1745. And the said Vice 
Chancellor, Heads of Colleges and Halls and Proctors, in order, 
as far as in them lies, to punish the author of such abominable 
profaneness and to secure the morals and religious principles 
of the youth committed to their care, from being corrupted 
by so wicked an example, have judged that this said George 
Augustus Selwyn ought to be utterly expell'd and banish'd 
from our said University and the precincts thereof; we there- 



ETON AND OXFORD 43 

fore the Doctors and Masters Regents and not-Regents (?) of 
our said University in Convocation assembled, having, on the 
day of the date hereof in our said Convocation, heard, as well 
the charge exhibited against the said George Augustus Selwyn 
as also the Proofs and evidences produced in support of the 
said charge, clearly and distinctly read over unto us, and having 
sufficiently weigh'd and consider'd of the same, Do, by these 
presents ratify and confirm the said Judgment of the said Vice 
Chancellor, Heads of Colleges and Halls and Proctors, and we 
do hereby pronounce Decree and declare that the said George 
Augustus Selwyn for and on account of the said crimes so 
alleged and proved against him, ought to be deprived of all and 
singular the Rights and Privileges of our said University, both 
now and hereafter ; and that he ought to be utterly expell'd 
and banish'd from our said University and never henceforward 
to be permitted to enter and reside within our said University 
or the precincts of the same. And we do accordingly by these 
presents, so deprive, expell and banish him the said George 
Augustus Selwyn ; and in case the said George Augustus 
Selwyn (this our sentence of Deprivation, Expulsion, and 
Bannition, notwithstanding) shall at any time hereafter, pre- 
sume to enter and make stay within this our University or the 
precincts thereof we do hereby admonish and strictly enjoin all 
and singular the scholars and others, of what Denomination 
soever, belonging to our said University, that immediately 
upon their knowledge thereof they do acquaint the Vice Chan- 
cellor or the Proctors of our said University therewith : and 
that they the said scholars and other privileged persons do not, 
in such case, presume to accompany and converse with the said 
George Augustus Selwyn on any pretence whatsoever, either in 
publick or in private, upon pain of the Law and their contempt 
thereof. And lastly, to this intent that this our Sentence or 
Decree may be sufficiently promulged and that no one hereafter 
may pretend ignorance thereof, we do, by these presents, farther 
Decree and ordain, that, within Three Days from and after the 
Date hereof, the same be reduced into the form of an edict or 
Proclamation, under the Seal of Office of the said Vice Chan- 
cellor, be affixed at the usual most publick and conspicuous 
places within our said University and the City of Oxford. 

Read and Unanimously passed in a full Committee of the 
University of Oxford on Monday the twenty-ninth of July 1745. 

Eus. ISHAM, Vice Chancellor. 
THO. WALDGRAVE, Proctor Senior. 
ROBT. SPEED, Proctor Junior. 
HENRY FISHER, Register. 



44 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

Opinions will differ as to this escapade and as to the right- 
ness of the sequel. Correct and virtuous people will shudder 
at the impiety, and think the wicked Selwyn well punished. 
Others, gentler and more charitable, though not perhaps so 
immaculate, will explain the matter as a drunken freak and 
be sorry for the culprit. At this distance of time it is hardly 
worth giving an opinion one way or the other. Let us merely 
note that Selwyn, at the age of twenty-six, was already too fond 
of Rhenish wine, and to go deeper into character was lacking 
in that fundamental reverence which is an attribute of all wise 
men. The sentence was undoubtedly severe, and so both 
Selwyn and his friends considered it. But, universities being 
what they are, and were institutions almost entirely under the 
control of the clergy no sentence less severe could reasonably 
have been expected. 

One or two remarks may be made upon the deposi- 
tions. It will be observed that neither the landlord nor 
the waiter turned informer. " Mr Selwyn gave a health, 
but what health he could not tell," says Parker. It was the 
gentlemen who gave Selwyn away. Of these gentlemen 
Mr Leveson Gower tried hardest to shield him. " I have 
deposed nothing else but what I told you," he wrote to 
Selwyn after making his deposition ; " the sum of which 
is, that you said some things disrespectful about religion, 
which I thought tended to the ridicule of the Roman 
Catholic religion, and that you was disordered by liquor, 
which is really what I thought ; and I hope will be of 
some service to you. What the rest have deposed I can't 
tell, not having seen anything. Assheton was never sent 
for, which is something very odd to me." Here Leveson 
Gower was wrong, as we have seen ; or perhaps he wrote 
before Assheton's deposition was taken, which was on the 
day before Convocation met. But that deposition was the 
most damaging of all. Assheton will not let the sinner escape 
if he can help it. He takes the trouble to add a rider to the 
effect that Selwyn was not too drunk to know what he was 
doing. Yet only a few weeks before Assheton was meeting the 
sinner "at Juggins's at eleven," and riding out into the country 
with him and other members of Selwyn's set. He might at 
least have remembered his friendship, and taken a lesson in 



ETON AND OXFORD 45 

reticence from Deverelle and Parker. 1 Again, it has. been 
suggested by more than one writer that this escapade of 
Selwyn's was the foundation of the " Hell Fire Club " at 
Medmenham Abbey. It had, of course, nothing in the 
world to do with the Hell Fire Club, which was not founded 
until many years after this. The " club of gentlemen " which 
met at Deverelle's near St Martin's Church was one of a 
large number of so-called "clubs" which were a feature of 
the Oxford life of that day. Men would dine in hall and then 
adjourn to a tavern to drink wine. There they would imagine 
themselves to be " bucks of the first head " from town, and 
form themselves into clubs on the town model. " Clubbable 
men " were those who could drink plenty of Rhenish : that was 
the principal qualification for membership. Thus the men of 
All Souls adjourned to the Three Tuns to such an extent that, 
says Amherst, " we should judge it (All Souls) to be translated 
over the way, and that the Three Tuns Tavern was All Souls 
College did not the effigies of the good Archbishop over the 
door convince us to the contrary." And thus it happened that 
"the don was carried to bed as often as the servitor"; and 
when he recovered from his debauch no doubt hurried down 
to Convocation, to help to expel the young person Selwyn for 
intemperance and profanity. 

Selwyn did not take his banishment without protest. He 
was prepared to move heaven and earth to get the decree 
annulled. His friends supported him loyally : for already 
Selwyn seems to have had a genius for friendship. Thus 
Sir William Maynard (Walpole's "disagreeable cub") wrote 
him : " D n the University ; I wish they were both on fire, 
and one could hear the proctors cry like roasted lobsters " ; 
Mr Thomas Streatfield did not "wonder at your having a 
dispute with the University, for I observe they bear a hatred 
to every man of more merit than themselves " ; and Lady 
Susan Leek daughter of that Hamilton killed in Hyde 
Park by Mohun gave her opinion in a postcript : " P.S. I 
cannot help casting my eyes on that part of your letter where 
you seem to think the people of Oxford had principles: this 

1 Selwyn never forgot Assheton's conduct upon this occasion. Thirty years 
afterwards he stayed in the west country with this Assheton's son, and 
referred to the father as a " sad rascal." 



46 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

really astonishes me, for you must know that they never had 
any, human or divine, party only governs." 

Fortified by these sentiments, Selwyn had wild thoughts 
of going to law and of taking the opinion of the courts upon 
the decree of Convocation. He consulted his Oxford friends 
about it. One of these was Dr Henry Brookes, at this time 
Registrar of the Vice-Chancellor's Court. In his first letter 
Brookes was not discouraging. " If you find cause to con- 
clude that either the matter or the manner of the decree 
passed against you was irregular, unjust, oppressive, or 
partial, your struggle to blunt the edge of that decree, and 
to avoid certain resulting inconveniences by a regular, a legal, 
and well advised appeal to the supreme judge and visitor of 
the University, may possibly find its justification in a primary 
law of nature, which dictates self-preservation and self-defence." 
A few months afterwards, however, he takes a different line. 
He points out the absurdity of George's appeal to the courts. 
" A solemn decree pronounced by the University of Oxford, 
the power of which body to make and enforce such decree is so 
well justified by charters, and confirmed by the legislature, that 
it will not readily yield, even to the weight of Westminster 
Hall." His true remedy was "an appeal to the King, as 
visitor of the University, and not by application to his courts 
of justice." But at the same time, says Brookes, if I were you 
I shouldn't do it. "You are pleased to call me your friend; 
that appellation gives me a right to tell you, with a freedom 
which you will excuse, that I have seriously and coolly con- 
sidered your whole case, and were your cause my own, I should 
acquiesce under the first onus, and stir no further." He thinks 
Selwyn's suspicions of the loss of Dr Newton's esteem quite 
groundless; "and am, sir, your affectionate humble servant, 
H. B." Selwyn also wrote to Dr Newton for assistance in the 
matter. In reply Newton wrote a letter which is interesting in 
more ways than one. In the first place he encloses a copy of a 
letter written in the previous June that is, before the expulsion. 
By it we learn that Selwyn had been in a little affair before that 
of Deverelle's tavern ; that the Vice-Chancellor had had serious 
thoughts of expelling him for it; and that Newton had objected 
and had given Selwyn a good character. 

" The upper part of the society here," he wrote, " with whom 



47 

he often converses, have, and always have had, a very good 
opinion of him. He is certainly not intemperate or dissolute, 
nor does he ever game, that I know of, or have heard of. He 
has a good deal of vanity, and loves to be admired and caressed, 
and so suits himself with great ease to the gravest and the 
sprightliest." That little touch about loving "to be admired and 
caressed" is surely very lifelike. It brings Selwyn before us 
almost for the first time. But, added Dr Newton, all this was 
in June. It "related to another affair than that for which you 
was expelled from this University ; I do not see of what use it 
can be to you in the present case. The hope I had that the 
Christ Church tutors' suspicion of you was groundless, was a 
vain hope : for, eight days after, I did myself, at their instance, 
remove you from being any longer a member of this college, 
and my having done so was a proof to you that I now thought 
that suspicion well-grounded." Then a perverse idea occurs to 
Newton. It was he who had expelled Selwyn from the 
University, not Convocation. " I removed you for the same 
reason for which the University afterwards pretended to remove 
you : I had power to do it, which I think they had not, for 
after I had removed you from the college you ceased to be a 
member of the University." Newton expounds this highly 
questionable doctrine at some length, and no doubt to his own 
satisfaction. But he omits to give Selwyn any encouragement 
in his appeal against the decree. " Advising you seriously to 
review the conduct which has given offence, which I am con- 
fident you will then disapprove, I remain your well-wisher, 
etc., etc. 

"For GEORGE AUGUSTUS SELWYN, Esq., 
at White's Chocolate House, 
St James's, London." 

Of course it all came to nothing. The written letter remained, 
and no effort that Selwyn could make was likely to alter it, 
particularly as he happened to be guilty. In time he realised 
this, and desisted from his efforts. There was no appeal to the 
King or to his judges. Selwyn's short and inglorious career 
at Oxford was over. 



CHAPTER IV 

SELWYN ON THE TOWN 

THE popular idea of George Selwyn is that he was an 
extremely witty person, with a taste for executions, who 
was always falling asleep. This may bear some distant 
resemblance to Selwyn in his middle period ; but it has no relation 
at all to Selwyn the youth. At the age of six and twenty George 
Selwyn had as yet no reputation for wit ; he had seen no exe- 
cutions to speak of; and he was remarkably wide awake. What 
manner of man was he when he came to town in 1745 ? In 
appearance, if we are to judge from his early portraits, he was 
singularly attractive. He had dark eyes and hair, a mobile 
mouth, and a round chin. The face, indeed, is full of intelli- 
gence and of humour. The humour is not in the eyes, however, 
which are almost melancholy (Walpole called them " demure ") : 
Selwyn derived half his reputation as a wit from the fact that 
the alleged jokes proceeded from a man who looked exceed- 
ingly solemn and serious as he joked. But the full, curling, lips 
seem made for saying witty things, and perhaps sarcastic things 
also ; and the Princess Marie Liechtenstein will have it that 
his slightly retrousse nose proclaims his power of repartee. 
But there are dangers in the reading of physiognomy. The 
Princess, for example, sees in George's face " the love for corpses 
combined with the facility for jokes " for which, according to 
tradition, he was famous. Now most people looking at the 
various portraits of Selwyn would entirely fail to perceive this 
extraordinary combination in his face: but still the Princess may 
be right. Mr Pitt was said to have liked a particular kind of pork 
pie, and Mr Fox had a passion for buff waistcoats. Has no female 
biographer of these distinguished men ever confirmed such pre- 
dilections from their published portraits ? On the whole, it is 
better to present Selwyn as Sir Joshua and others painted him, 
and allow each person to be his own interpreter of character. 

The earliest portrait of Selwyn which we possess is not by 
Sir Joshua, but by an unknown and inferior artist. In this 

48 




GEORGE SELWYN 

FROM A PORTRAIT BY SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS 



SELWYN ON THE TOWN 49 

picture (now at Quedgeley House) Selwyn appears as a handsome 
young man of twenty-three or four, so that it must have been 
painted about 1742-1743, when he was still an undergraduate 
at Oxford (p. 34). Selwyn was painted five times in all by Sir 
Joshua Reynolds. The first of these pictures in order of date is 
the "Conversation Piece," painted in 1759 for Horace Walpole, 
and containing full-length portraits of George Selwyn, Gilly 
Williams, and Dick Edgecumbe (p. 86). This picture hung over 
the chimney-piece in the refectory,or great parlour, at Strawberry 
Hill for many years. It is now in the possession of the Hon. 
Mrs Edward Stanley, of Bridgwater, and a fine replica, also 
painted by Sir Joshua, belongs to the Earl of Cadogan, and hangs 
at Culford. The next portrait by Sir Joshua, painted in 1761, is 
that in the possession of the Hon. Robert Marsham-Townshend 
(p. 48). Here Selwyn is still young and gay, with bright eyes, and 
an alert expression. This is a fine picture, but curiously misty in 
effect, owing to the fading of Sir Joshua's colours. Then we 
have a middle-aged portrait, painted either in 1764 or 1766, and 
now in the possession of the Earl of Rosebery (Frontispiece). 
This is in some ways the most interesting of all Selwyn's por- 
traits. The face is calm and thoughtful ; the eyes sombre but 
very direct. It is the face of a man whose first youth is over, 
and who is already beginning to be the " weary King Ecclesiast." 
For once Sir Joshua has forgotten his conventions of portraiture, 
and has put individuality and character into the face of his sub- 
ject. Selwyn is gorgeously attired in a red coat trimmed with 
fur, and a yellow embroidered vest, with lace collar. He is 
nursing his favourite pug, Raton, and leans his head lightly 
upon his hand. 

In 1770 Sir Joshua again painted George Selwyn, this time 
in company with Frederick, fifth Earl of Carlisle (p. 270). Here 
Selwyn is older, but not graver ; in fact, he looks much more 
cheerful than in what we may call the Rosebery portrait, painted 
some years earlier. There is a fifth portrait of Selwyn, by Sir 
Joshua, the original of which I have not been able to trace. But 
there is an excellent copy by Jackson, R.A., now at Castle 
Howard. Jackson also made several pencil sketches from this 
picture, one of which is now at Holland House, and another 
(reproduced on p. 122) in Major Selwyn-Payne's posses- 
sion, at Cheltenham. George Selwyn was one of Sir Joshua's 



50 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

earliest patrons and most constant friends. Yet he was no 
blind admirer ; more than once he criticised severely the artist's 
experiments in colouring, and time has proved that he was 
right. It is pleasant to think of Selwyn's many visits to the studio 
in Leicester Fields, and of his friendship for that great artist, 
and serenely wise and generous man. We may complete our 
catalogue of Selwyn's portraits by another Castle Howard 
picture, the pastel by H. D. Hamilton, an Irish artist, repro- 
duced on p. 108. 

To return to 1745. At this time Selwyn must have had 
what women call a "charming manner." He made friends 
easily, in his own rank of life and in others, and he always kept 
them. He " loved to be admired and caressed," as Dr Newton 
said. There is no doubt whatever that Selwyn, with a thousand 
faults, had the one great virtue of a good heart. He might be 
a sinner, but you could not help liking him, and forgiving the 
sin. There was much to forgive in this young man of twenty- 
six. He had spent his money, wasted his time, and been 
expelled from his university without a degree. His parents 
were evidently not at all in a forgiving mood : they found it 
easy to withstand his fascinations. Thus in 1746, when George 
dined with Ethelreda, Lady Townshend, and joked with her 
about the execution of Lord Kilmarnock, of whom she pre- 
tended to be very fond, she "burst into a flood of tears and 
rage, told him she now believed all his father and mother had 
said of him, and with a thousand other reproaches, flung 
upstairs." George was a most notorious young spendthrift 
and scapegrace. But still, I wish his parents had forgiven him. 
It is very questionable if his father at least ever did so. Colonel 
John Selwyn died in November 1751. It is said that his death 
was hastened by that of his favourite son, John, in June of the 
same year, which is probably true, and by the conduct of his 
second son, George, which we must hope is not true. Certainly 
after the death of his brother, George was in a very tender and 
chastened mood. On the 2Qth June 1751 he writes to his 
brother-in-law Thomas Townshend " not only to know how my 
father and mother do, but having the most entire dependence 
on. your kindness and humanity, as well as on your particular 
friendship to me, to beg that you will not omit, when you find 
the most proper season for so doing, to present my duty to 



SELWYN ON THE TOWN 51 

them both, and to do justice to my present sentiments and con- 
cern, which I am no otherwise able to express than by assuring 
you they are such, as from the strongest ties of nature, and from 
my deep sense of the great obligations which I have to them, 
are the most just on so melancholy and affecting an occasion. 

" It would, I am afraid, be in vain to flatter myself that I 
shall be able at any time to give much relief to their affliction, 
and at present can only think of sharing it with them. But 
as length of time never fails to weaken the force of the 
strongest impression, and may, in all probability, give them 
some leisure to think on me, it will be then that I shall hope 
for your good offices with them, and that you will be so good 
as to endeavour to persuade them of my most sincere desire to 
alleviate the weight of their misfortune by every opportunity 
that I can find, and to convince them of the love, esteem, 
and respect which I shall ever retain for the memory of our 
common loss, by a constant attention to follow his example. 
Dear Sir, I can subscribe with the greatest submission to the 
severest censure that could be passed on all my former conduct 
in this respect, only let me beg, that my heart, and the measure 
of my concern, may be judged by your own." 

To this very proper letter Mr Townshend replied suitably, 
flattering himself "that you will not fail in what your duty, 
interest, and humanity, call so loudly upon you to do." Six 
weeks later the Rev. Charles Lyttelton in a letter fears that 
"things do not go quite right between you and your father. 
You need not be told of what importance it is to you to make 
every concession he requires. Your good sense and good heart 
will, I am persuaded, incite you to do what is right in this 
critical conjuncture, which must determine your future fortune 
and happiness." On 5th November Sir William Maynard 
" don't yet imagine you quite established in his good opinion " ; 
and as this was written on the day of John Selwyn's death it 
is to be feared that George was never entirely forgiven by his 
father. He was probably not reconciled to his mother for some 
years after this. At all events, in an unpublished letter, dated 
1754, his great-aunt Mrs Hewett, says she has been visiting 
George Sel wyn, " which cuts me off from all his relations." But 
George was forgiven enough to be made the heir of Matson", 
which was substantially a free pardon. 



52 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

At six and twenty, then, Selwyn was a good-looking young 
scapegrace, who, like so many scapegraces, was everybody's 
friend but his own. He was also by way being a young man 
of fashion. How could he be other than that ? His parents 
were Court people. They moved in that select world where 
everybody knew everybody else, and where nothing mattered 
but birth. George was born into this world, and made himself 
very much at home in it. While yet a student at Oxford he 
had " seen life " in company with such well-known men about 
town as Richard Rigby and Hanbury Williams. " The news- 
papers can tell you as much news as I know, or ever will 
know," writes Williams to him in March 1745 ; "and to them 
I refer you for politics. When we talked together we talked 
of better things than these ; and while we write to one another 
we will keep in the same track and never be serious." Thus 
the middle-aged man of fashion to his pupil, who learned the 
lesson eagerly enough. George Selwyn and his friends were 
never " serious." They could have been if they had taken the 
trouble, for none of them were in the least stupid ; but they did 
not take the trouble. It was not their style to be serious. 
They talked of horses and women and cards, and kept serious 
things like politics for letters to their uncles and aunts. But 
in this are they very different from the young men of to-day ? 
Do Selwyn's successors in St James's Street indulge constantly 
in highly intellectual conversation? They would be the first 
to deny any such impeachment. 

George Selwyn was a young man of fashion. Now, young 
men of fashion in spite of judicial dicta must live. How 
did George find an income sufficient to support him in his 
arduous career ? His father was not a rich man. It is true 
that by " adding one to one " he had attained a competent 
fortune. He was able, for example, to purchase the manor 
of Scadbury and settle it upon his daughter, Albinia, and her 
children. But John Selwyn was not particularly anxious to 
grant a large yearly allowance to the spendthrift George. He 
knew too well where it would go. At this point, however, the 
reader stumbles upon what was regarded by the aristocracy 
of England in Georgian days as a beautiful dispensation of 
Providence : the sinecure system. In those days there was 
never much trouble about younger sons or poor relations. The 



SELWYN ON THE TOWN 58 

Army and Navy having been exhausted, there was always the 
Civil Service : always the chance of obtaining by influence a 
Place the word deserves a capital the salary attached to 
which was good and the duties of which were none at all. 
Observe the practice. The younger son was appointed by 
Letters Patent to the Place at an adequate salary, with leave 
to appoint a deputy. The deputy, an obscure person, did all 
the work, and took all the worry, for a very moderate remunera- 
tion ; and the balance of the salary went to the placeman. 
In Selwyn's day the patent placeholders were a strong and 
virtuous body of men who honestly believed that in some 
inscrutable and mysterious way the safety of the Constitution 
was bound up with themselves and their offices. And so when 
Burke abolished most of these sinecures, in 1782, a bitter cry 
went up from the dispossessed. The most eloquent defence of 
the system was written by Horace Walpole, who was himself 
an old and hardened since urist. Horace admitted, cynically 
enough, that the overtaxed poor might perhaps have some 
cause for complaint ; but he also pointed out that it did not 
lie in the mouths of other members of the leisured classes to 
accuse the placemen of parasitism. " He who holds an ancient 
patent place," says he, "enjoys it as much by law as any 
gentleman holds his estate, and by more ancient tenure than 
most gentlemen hold theirs and from the same fountain, only 
of ancienter date than many of the nobility and gentry hold 
their estates ; who possess them only by grants from the Crown, 
as I possess my places ; . . . nor can I think myself as a 
patent-placeman a mere useless or a less legal engrosser of part 
of the wealth of the nation than deans and prebendaries who 
fatten on Christianity like any less holy incumbent of a fee." 
The argument was simple enough. Once you begin to abolish 
sinecures, where are you going to stop? What about the 
Church? What about the universities? What about the 
country gentlemen? In short, touch the placeman, and you 
begin a Radical campaign of which no one can see the end. 

But in 1745 Burke was at Trinity College, Dublin, not 
thinking of touching anybody, and various members of the 
Selwyn family were calmly enjoying numerous and well-paid 
sinecure Places. The prevalence of the system is brought home 
to anyone who takes the trouble to examine the Docquet Book 



54 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

of Privy Seals at the Record Office in Chancery Lane. Choose 
a well-known eighteenth-century name like Walpole or Town- 
shend, and observe how often it recurs in that book. The 
Selwyns make a brave show. John Selwyn, senior, John Selwyn, 
junior, George Selwyn, Henry Selwyn, William Selwyn, 
H. C. Selwyn : they are all there, some of them occurring several 
times, and mostly in respect of sinecure offices. Thus Colonel 
John Selwyn was in 1739 appointed "Master of St Lawrence's 
Hospital in Cirencester or Cisester, with all authorities, privi- 
leges, profits, and emoluments," and in 1747 Senior Paymaster 
of Marines ; and in 1746 John Selwyn, junior, was appointed 
Junior Paymaster of Marines "in the room of Sir Charles 
Hanbury Williams," who had gone into the diplomatic service. 
And now we see whence our young man of fashion obtained 
some at least of his funds. 

On the 1st of March 1740 George Selwyn, then nearly 
twenty-one years of age, was nominated to the not very dis- 
tinguished offices of Clerk of the Irons and Surveyor of the 
Meltings at the Mint. The warrant under the Privy Seal is 
described as "a grant unto George Selwyn Esquire of the 
offices of Clerk of the Irons and Surveyor of the Melting 
Houses in the Tower of London To hold the said offices by 
himself or his sufficient Deputy or Deputys during his natural 
life with the yearly fee of Twenty marks for the exercise of 
the office of Clerk of the Irons and the like yearly fee of twenty 
marks for the exercise of that of Surveyour in as ample a 
manner as William Evans Esquire deceased or any other 
persons have held and enjoyed the same." The reader will at 
once observe that George's total salary as Clerk of the Irons 
and Surveyor of the Melting Houses came to the not very 
munificent sum of forty marks that is to say, twenty-seven 
pounds a year. This would not be of very much use to a 
young man of fashion. But here again one comes across 
another fine characteristic of the system. The salary of a post 
was not at all a conclusive indication of its real value. There 
were perquisites : rights, franchises, privileges, which the 
holder might exercise even as his predecessors did. Thus 
Selwyn was to exercise his office in "as ample a manner as 
William Evans Esquire deceased." It appeared that Evans 
had the right to receive rent for a house at the Mint. Evans 



55 

was an easy-going landlord, but Selwyn was different. " In 
respect to the rent," he writes to Mr Mathias, " I am resolved 
to fix it to twenty-five pounds per annum, as long as the house 
belongs to me. My successor, whoever he may be, may, if he 
pleases, let it for nothing ; but I think it more probable that, 
if he considers what the value of the house is, he will raise the 
rent five pounds more. My tenant quotes General Evans as 
a precedent, but I cannot think he should be one for me : for 
he had a very plentiful fortune, and other employments much 
more considerable ; in so much that, if he did not think it 
worth his while to be exact in regard to the profits of so in- 
considerable a place as that in which I succeed him, he might 
afford to do it, but I believe you know my circumstances too 
well, not to think I am in the right to make every reasonable 
advantages I can." This rent and the salary brought the 
profits of Selwyn's "inconsiderable place" up to fifty -two 
pounds a year. There may have been other perquisites as 
well (there was, it is said, a weekly dinner, which Selwyn faith- 
fully attended) ; but probably the total income was under .100. 
In addition to this Selwyn had in these early years an allow- 
ance from his father, which, in 1742, seems to have amounted to 
.220 per annum. Or possibly this sum included the profits of 
his Place : the point is not clear. But in any case Selwyn must 
have been fairly short of money for some years after his coming 
to town, say between 1745 and 1751. In the latter year came 
his brother's and his father's deaths, the former on the 27th 
of June, the latter on the 5th of November. But between June 
and November to be accurate, on the I7th of August Colonel 
Selwyn made a will " to settle and secure my estate in such 
manner as may preserve it to my family and prevent any con- 
troversies that may after my death otherwise happen con- 
cerning the same." He left to his only son George Augustus 
Selwyn for life, first, Matson " alias Matsdon " in the county 
of Gloucester, with all its rents and services, subject only to 
Mrs Selwyn's jointure. After Selwyn's death the estate was 
to go to " the Honourable Thos. Townshend Esquire and the 
Honble. Roger Townshend his brother " ; second, the castle 
and manor of Ludgarshall or Luggershall in Wilts, "with the 
right or reputed right to vote in choice or Election of burgesses 
to sit in the House of Commons" ; third, a house "near May- 



56 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

fair Chappel," and another house, Danson, in the Cray district, 
both leasehold properties ; and fourth, "the annuity or annuitys 
which I purchased for his [George's] life of Lord Tyrawley, 
charged on his lordship's estate in Ireland." The amount of 
these annuities is not given, but we now know them to have 
been three annuities of .100 per annum each. 1 Such was John 
Selwyn's will. He named no executors, and no residuary 
legatee : administration " with the will annexed " was therefore 
granted to his widow, Mary Selwyn. Some difficulty of a legal 
kind appears to have arisen ; for a friendly action (George 
Augustus Selwyn v. Mary Selwyn) was instituted in the Court 
of Chancery, in which the Hon. Charles Yorke was briefed for 
the plaintiff. You may read Mr Yorke's argument, and consult 
his brief, in the manuscript department of the British Museum. 2 
One other curious fact about John Selwyn's will deserves to 
be noted. It made no mention of a great estate which be- 
longed to him, and which therefore descended to George Selwyn 
as his heir. This estate has always been placed in the West 
Indies by the biographers of Selwyn, no doubt because he held 
a sinecure post in the Barbadoes, and also because of the many 
references to Selwyn's " negroes " by Gilly Williams and others 
of his correspondents. But Selwyn had no property in the 
West Indies : the mysterious estate, with its equally mysterious 
negroes, was in North Carolina. 

We learn this from a curious document preserved among 
the Newcastle papers in the British Museum. 3 This is a 
petition of George Selwyn to the Treasury, dated 1751, shortly 
after his father's death. In it he sets out at length a grant to John 
Selwyn in 1745 of sixteen tracts of land, each containing 12,500 
acres, " lying in the extream parts of North Carolina, near the 
mountains and the Cataba Indians, with a quit-rent of Four 
Shillings Proclamation Money for every 100 acres, payable to 
the Crown after the expiration of ten years," on condition that 
he should settle one white person on every 200 acres : other- 
wise the unsettled land was to revert to his Majesty after ten 
years. Petitioner's father was prevented from settling the 
lands " partly owing to the continuance of the war, and partly 

1 See Chapter XIV. 

2 Add. MSS. 36195, f. 348 ; 36224, f. 6. 

3 Add. MSS. 34736, f. 183. 



SELWYN ON THE TOWN 57 

by frequent illnesses," although he was " at very great expences 
in surveying the land, passing the grants, and settling some 
white familys in that Wast (sic} and distant country." (This is 
surely a George Selwyn touch.) " Your Petitioner prays for a 
further exemption of Quit Rent, and also from the obligation 
of settling one white person in every 200 acres, for the space 
of 7 years, to commence from the expiration of the said 
term of ten years." The petition is signed " George Selwyn," 
and endorsed " Referred to the Board of Trade." What did 
the Board of Trade do with it ? We do not know. We do 
not even know what happened eventually to the estate (or the 
negroes) ; it is not mentioned in his will. No doubt it was 
lost in the loss of America ; and no doubt also it was this 
estate of 200,000 acres in North Carolina which made George 
Selwyn so fervent a supporter of Great Britain in the war of 
the Revolution. 

On his father's death, therefore, George Selwyn became a 
man of property and of means. But nevertheless he added to 
his income four years afterwards by accepting another and 
better Place : and perhaps we may as well complete here our 
account of Selwyn the Sinecurist. By warrant under the 
Privy Seal dated 2/th April 1755, and subsequently by Letters 
Patent dated December of the same year, Selwyn was ap- 
pointed Paymaster of the Works "Concerning the Repairs, 
new Buildings and well-keeping of any of His (Majesty's) 
houses of Access," in place of Denzil Onslow, Esquire, at the 
salary of .400 a year " to be retained out of moneys coming 
to his hands." This was confirmed by George III. on his 
accession, the new Letters Patent being issued in March 1761. 
Selwyn held this post for twenty-seven years, until Burke 
abolished it in 1782. The practice was to "Imprest" to the 
paymaster from the Exchequer lump sums of money, which 
were duly disbursed and accounted for to the auditor at the 
end of the year. The account went up to the auditor year 
after year in the name of George Augustus Selwyn, but it is 
more than probable that George Augustus Selwyn never once 
saw the document. On one occasion the clerk who drew the 
account seems not even to have been sure of the paymaster's 
name, for a certain item runs : 

" Augustus Selwyn ? (sic) this accountant Paymaster of His 



Majesty's Works at { a year, for a clerk at xx d a day and for 
his allowance in lieu of lodgings at x ^ v | a year," and so on. 
When this post was abolished in 1782 Selwyn was very wroth, 
considering that as a good " Government man " he ought to 
have been spared : and indeed a sinecurist who had enjoyed 
^400 a year (not counting perquisites) for twenty-seven years 
might be pardoned a little irritation at seeing his income 
suddenly vanish by Act of Parliament. But Selwyn was 
consoled in 1784 by a Place which had escaped the reforming 
zeal of Burke, and which was exactly twice as remunerative as 
the Works' office. He was appointed by William Pitt Surveyor- 
General of Crown Lands : " of all and singular our Honors, 
Castles, Lordship Manors, Forests, Chaces, Parks, Messuages, 
Lands, Tenements, Woods, Services, Revenues, Possessions 
and hereditaments whatsoever," at " a certain annuity or annual 
fee of ,800 of lawful money." Selwyn held this post until his 
death in 1791. He also for many years was Clerk of the Crown 
and Peace and Registrar of the Court of Chancery in the island of 
Barbadoes (the court was in the Barbadoes, not the registrar) : 
an unconsidered trifle, snapped up by John Selwyn in 1724 l 
The story of this " trifle," however, is worth telling. The grant 
was for John Selwyn's own life, and for the lives of his two sons, 
" and the life of the longer liver of them." John Selwyn never 
enjoyed this post, for his estate was only to begin on the death 
of Anthony Cracherode, Esquire, the then holder ; and, as it 
happened, Anthony Cracherode, Esquire, survived John Selwyn. 
He died on 22nd April 1752. His deputy, one John Murray, 
continued to act until I3th July, and in these three months 
received the sum of ,280 odd, fees and profits of the post. 
This came to the knowledge of the new registrar, George 
Augustus Selwyn, Esquire, who promptly (Selwyn-like) de- 
manded the .280. Mr Murray refused to pay, and said the 
money was his. Thereupon Selwyn brought an " action on the 
case" against him in 1753. The trial came on in 1757, and the 
jury found for Murray. Selwyn appealed to the Court of Errors 
(in Barbadoes), and was beaten again. Then he appealed to 
the Privy Council, and briefed his friend Charles Yorke (who, 
by the way, with Mr Alex. Wedderburn, drew up a most admir- 

1 Add. MSS. 36125, f. 103. 






SELWYN ON THE TOWN 59 

able statement for the appellant). 1 The appeal was heard in 
February 1761 eight years after action brought and the 
brief is endorsed in Yorke's handwriting: "Judgment reversed, 
with costs." So that Selwyn triumphed after many days, as 
indeed on the facts he was bound to do. It was this fact which 
gave rise to the legends about Selwyn's West Indian estates, 
and which was sufficient to " star " him in the books of the 
Jockey Club as a West Indian member. This completes 
George Selwyn's record as a Placeman. 

One must apologise to the Man of Fashion for lingering so 
long over the sordid details of his yearly income. But really 
it is rather important ; for Selwyn happened to come upon the 
town at a time when of all things it behoved a man to stand 
well with his bankers. You might be a jolly good fellow (as 
Selwyn was) ; but unless you could afford to lose a few hundred 
guineas of an evening with equanimity you missed the real joy 
of life. For it was essentially a time of play. Everybody 
played at cards, or diced, or otherwise gambled, from her 
ladyship of Walmoden at St James's down to the idle appren- 
tices in Mr Hogarth's graveyard. Most of all the clubmen 
played : they had no other diversion. They did not sit down 
after dinner, as we do in more enlightened days, and drowse 
over a pipe and a newspaper, or talk fatuously about politics 
in the smoking-room. They drew forth the card-tables, lit the 
candles, and played picquet or macco till dawn. Lucky he 
who finished the night even, or a winner. It was a far more 
common thing for a young gentleman to rise from these tables 
" broke " or " utterly undone." At least that was the feeling 
next morning, when he would write off to his friends for assist- 
ance, and paint himself as in a condition of the utmost dejection 
and despair. But nobody in that circle was ever permanently 
"undone," not even Charles James Fox, who was so often 
guinea-less after a night at the macco-tables. There were always 
kind friends who made " arrangements," knowing that their own 
turn might come next. There were such things as deeds, bills, 
mortgages. In a week the young gentleman was again playing 
merrily, and perhaps winning back all that he had lost. 

Now in this matter George Selwyn was essentially a 
"clubbable" man. He loved the gaming-table, and devoted 
1 Add. MSS. 36218, f. 90. 



60 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

to it a goodly portion of his long life. Even so late as 1778, 
when he was old enough to know better, Selwyn confessed to 
his niece that he had " an ungovernable passion for play." To 
be sure George was guilty here of some slight exaggeration, for 
so far as one can discover from the records of his life he had a 
singular self-control, and never made any really great gambling 
losses. But he had the passion, especially in his younger days, 
and he indulged it with considerable freedom. His kind friends 
gave him many a hint upon the subject : " Permit me, sir," wrote 
the Rev. Knight Burroughs to him in 1751, "to make use of the 
liberty of a friend, and to entreat your favourable acceptance of 
my advice, which, though indifferent, may yet have some little 
value. Not that I would presume to instruct one that knows 
things so much better than myself, but I would only beg leave 
to caution you against indulging yourself in one amusement 
I think I cannot give it a softer name which you are sensible, 
by sad experience, has cost you many an uneasy moment. I 
need not explain myself any further, but will only add, that 
when once that fatal passion is rooted in the mind of any man, 
the Duke of Bedford's fortune will not be sufficient to make him 
happy. Let me, therefore, confine you to take a noble resolu- 
tion, worthy of a man of sense and honour, worthy of yourself. 
. . . Part with but that one failing, and believe me, dear sir, 
you will soon become as happy and as immeasurably esteemed 
as any man in the world." Admirable advice, discounted in 
part by the fact that the writer is a humbug, who is waiting for 
his father's death when he should be "very happy, but not 
before," and who goes on to hint that a loan of 130 would 
be very acceptable. In any case Selwyn did not take the 
advice, and never quite gave up the gaming-table, as we shall 
see often enough in the course of this narrative. 

No doubt Selwyn could, and did, indulge his passion for play 
at home, and in the houses of his friends. But he probably 
lost and won more money at his club than anywhere else. His 
first and favourite club was White's, in St James's Street. It 
will be remembered that Selwyn dated his letters to his friends 
at Oxford from White's Chocolate House. This was not 
surprising, for the Chocolate House was just round the corner 
from Cleveland Court, and the prodigal could compose his 
correspondence there without fear of parental interruption. 



SELWYN ON THE TOWN 61 

But he had a special right to put the St James's Street address 
on his notepaper, for on the 22nd of April 1744, he had been 
elected a member of the New or Young Club at White's. The 
club had been founded only in the previous year, when Selwyn's 
father and brother were elected ; so that all the Selwyns were 
amongst its earliest members. White's was then, as it is now, 
the club of the men of fashion. Then shall we say, as now ? it 
had a certain reputation for high play at cards : a reputation 
not altogether undeserved, although outsiders like Mr Pope 
and severe moralists like Hogarth might paint it in the blackest 
of colours. I sometimes think if George Selwyn could revisit 
London to-day he would find himself most at home in St James's 
Street. Somebody suggests Piccadilly. But Piccadilly has been 
brutalised, Americanised, since Selwyn's day. Its stark hotels 
and its middle-class cafes would vex that fastidious person. 
St James's Street, on the other hand, still preserves something 
of its eighteenth-century air. Selwyn would find the Palace 
much as he left it. If he walked up the street, he would 
pass Arthur's and Brooks's and Boodle's, changed a little 
perhaps exteriorly, but in their old remembered places. He 
would come at last to White's, with its famous bow-window. 
If he entered, he would surely not feel as a stranger feels. 
Those panelled rooms, square, comfortable, and entirely 
Georgian, would not be unfamiliar to him : the portraits of 
his bosom friends would gaze down upon him from the walls. 
On the whole, White's deserves some special mention from any 
biographer of George Selwyn. 

It is the custom of writers on the eighteenth century to deal 
largely, and in truth somewhat wearisomely, with the clubs and 
club life of that time. If we are to believe some of these 
ingenious persons, London, in the days of Anne and of the 
Georges, was a town of clubs, at which resorts everybody who 
was anybody in the world of talent or of fashion was to be met 
with at some hour of the twenty-four. This is hardly so. Until 
the late eighteenth -century, clubs affected a comparatively 
small number of people in the great world of London. But 
many of these people were literary people ; and here we see 
whence the exaggeration comes. For literary people (like 
other people) are fond of talking about themselves ; and 
having the fatal gift of writing, they are equally fond of writing 



about themselves. Take up any biographical dictionary, and 
observe how much of it is occupied by literary men and women. 
An obscure poet, a writer of forgotten doggerel, has perhaps 
half a column to himself; the engineer, the scientist, the 
merchant, is lucky if he obtain half a line. Literary people 
like to write about themselves. They also like to represent 
their haunts as being places where genius burns fiercely ; where 
there is always an abundance of wit and soul and reason ; 
where the conversation remains permanently on an extra- 
ordinarily high level. But the eager youth, with his head full 
of dreams, who visits these shrines, is commonly disappointed 
and always has been disappointed. Generally, however, 
he keeps his disappointment to himself, as Chatterton did, 
and, sitting solitary over his pipe and his bowl, writes to 
his friends in the country what a very fine thing it is to be 
surrounded by wits and geniuses of the first rank. Now 
all this is strictly relevant to the history of clubs, and even to 
the history of White's. Clubs began in coffee-houses, which 
became very numerous at the close of the seventeenth century. 
In 1710 there were 2000 of them in the cities of London 
and Westminster alone. And the most famous coffee-houses 
were those of the Covent Garden neighbourhood, which were 
affected by the literary class. When we think of "Will's" 
we think of John Dryden, smoking his pipe there of a summer 
evening, while " Button's " inevitably suggests Addison and 
Steele, also smoking their pipes. But all these coffee-houses 
were open to the general public, who might pay their pennies 
at the bar, sit down to their coffee and their tobacco, and listen 
to Dryden or Addison or Pope, as the case might be : always 
provided that the oracle would speak. There was no exclusive 
"club" in the modern sense of the word at all. It was Francis 
White who first conceived the idea of separating the regular 
customers from the vulgar herd : of providing them with a 
room where they might assemble without being stared at, 
and perhaps slapped on the back, by ordinary members of the 
British public. White founded his chocolate-house in St James's 
Street in 1693. It soon became the meeting place of men of 
leisure and of fortune, and also, as Mr Burke says, "of the 
followers who lived upon them." The separation of the aristo- 
cratic patrons of the chocolate-house from the common herd 



SELWYN ON THE TOWN 63 

began quite early in the eighteenth century ; but the modern 
history of White's really begins in 1736. In that year the 
" Rules of the Old Club at White's " were first drawn up, and 
a list of the members made. The Old Club grew so quickly 
that it soon became necessary to restrict the election of new 
members. A New or Young club was therefore formed (in 
1743) of gentlemen who were waiting their turn for election 
at the Old Club. George Selwyn had to wait nine years for 
admission to the Old Club. He entered the Young Club in 1744, 
and it was not until 29th November 1753 that he was elected 
to the other, on the same day as his friend and cousin Lord 
Robert Bertie. He was very fortunate. Some members of the 
Young Club had to wait much longer ; and some, like the Earl 
of March and Ruglen, never got into the Old Club at all. 

White's having from the beginning excluded the literary 
class, the literary class took its revenge by lampooning the club. 
No doubt it was a dreadful place. No doubt young gentlemen 
made and lost large sums of money there which might easily 
have changed hands in a more legitimate way. But was 
White's quite so bad as the satirists and the moralists painted 
it ? Was it very much worse than other clubs patronised by 
these same satirists and moralists ? Or was there something of 
an omne ignotum flavour about the anti-White campaign ? One 
has suspicions. It is quite true that in the early days in the 
days of the chocolate-houses Dick Steele dated, or pretended 
to date, many of his Tatlers from White's. "All accounts of 
gallantry, and pleasure, and entertainment," says he, " shall be 
under the article of White's Chocolate House " ; and the wise 
Addison knew the place : 

" Long ere they find the necessary spark 
They search the town and beat about the park 
To all his most frequented haunts resort, 
Oft dog him in the ring, and oft to Court 
As love of pleasure or of place invites, 
And sometimes find him taking snuff at White's." 

But this was before White's became a club. After that date 
few literary men were admitted. Colley Gibber was an ex- 
ception ; but Colley was a butt for the young fashionables, a 
convenient person on whom they could exercise what they 



64 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

called their wit. He was " King Coll " to them ; they greeted 
him with huzzas when he appeared. Perhaps it was Gibber's 
membership that drew Pope's attention to White's. At all 
events, that agreeable satirist refers to the club not once but 
many times in his most caustic manner. He pictures King 
Coll : 

" Chair'd at White's among the Doctors sit, 
Teach oaths to gamesters, and to nobles wit." 

As " Doctors " were loaded dice, the innuendo is damaging 
enough. Another couplet of Pope about White's is hardly 
quotable nowadays, in which he refers to the " British youth " 
engaged there with "felons," and with ladies who were not 
felons. But Pope, we must never forget, was a Tory, and 
White's had a Whig flavour. Swift was also a Tory. Does 
this explain his outburst of moral zeal against the club in his 
"Essay on Education"? "I heard," says he, "that the late 
Earl of Oxford, in the time of his ministry, never pass'd by 
White's Chocolate House (the common rendezvous of infamous 
sharpers and noble cullies) without bestowing a curse on that 
famous academy as the bane of half the English aristocracy." 
White's was pretty bad ; but did the earl stop to curse every 
time he passed its door ? Indeed, Swift was hardly an un- 
prejudiced critic. He and his friend Pope had their own clubs, 
the October, for instance, and the Scriblerus, which I daresay 
were both very proper, though they could hardly be unexciting 
with two such members. But you cannot after all extract 
much amusement from toasting a Pretender in brandy punch : 
it palls after a time. I wonder did Swift never take a hand 
at the macco-table ? Despite his rage against the aristocratic 
White's, he was very human, and loved the society of a lord 
almost as much as he loved to go home afterwards and write 
about it to his little M.D. But one man who satirised White's 
was never, I am sure, within its portals, and cared neither for 
cards nor peers. This was William Hogarth, who contrived to 
drag White's into his " Rake's Progress," as he contrived to drag 
in so many places and people. In Plate IV. we have a picture 
of St James's Street. The Rake is being arrested, to the horrid 
accompaniment of thunder and lightning. A tremendous flash 
of forked lightning issues from the heavens, and points directly 



SELWYN ON THE TOWN 65 

at a house near the Palace. At what house should it point but 
" White's," the home of the infamous sharper and the noble 
cully? And there is the sign painted plainly enough, for 
Hogarth never left anything to the imagination. In Plate VI. 
we are taken inside White's (or a similar gaming-house) and 
shown the gamblers at their cards. A highwayman sits by the 
fire, as an indication of the kind of person whom you might 
expect to meet at the club. 

George Selwyn, though not a highwayman, probably found 
himself very much at home in White's. He had there a select 
circle of friends, one or more of whom he might always be 
certain of meeting at dinner, and of having a quiet game of 
cards with afterwards. His contemporaries and friends at the 

I club included Gilly Williams, Lord March, Richard Edgecumbe, 
Richard Rigby and Horace Walpole. There was also another 
young gentleman elected a member of White's at this time, 
whose name, however, you will not find in the lists of members, 
but who is now quite as real to us as George Selwyn or Gilly 
Williams. I mean Mr Henry Esmond Warrington, who was 
frequently at the club in or about the year 1756, and who met 
George Selwyn there, and Lord March, and the Earl of Castle- 
wood. You remember how they all three played at macco 
with him, and how March won some of his money fairly, and 
Castlewood the rest, not fairly. " By George, Mr Warrington," 
said Mr Selwyn, waking up in a rare fit of enthusiasm, " you 
deserve to win ! You treat your luck as a gentleman should, 
and as long as she remains with you, behave to her with the 
utmost politeness. Si celeres quatit pennas you know the 
rest. No ? Well, you are not much worse off you will call 
her ladyship's coach and make her a bow at the step." It is 
probable that between the years 1745 and 1760 George Selwyn 
spent more time at White's than at any other place in London. 
With Walpole and Edgecumbe he designed a coat of arms for 
the club which Walpole has described in the following words : 
" Vert (for a card table) ; between 3 parolis proper, on a 
chevron, sable, 2 rouleaux in saltire between 2 dice proper. In 
a canton, sable, a ball (for election) argent. Supporters, an old 
knave of clubs on the dexter, a young knave on the sinister 
side ; both accoutred proper. Crest, issuing out of an Earl's 
coronet (Lord Darlington's) an arm shaking a dice-box, all 





66 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

proper. Motto, alluding to the crest, 'Cogit amor nummi.' 
The arms encircled with a claret bottle ticket by way of order." 
The original coat of arms is now at Arthur's club, but you may 
see a copy in the hall at White's. 

White's, like Brooks's, possesses tantalisingly few records of 
the eighteenth century. It has a bare manuscript list of 
members, and a betting-book, but nothing more. Curiously 
enough, we do not find Selwyn's name recorded even once in 
the betting-book of White's, where nearly all his friends and 
contemporaries figure. It must be confessed that many of 
these " betts " are very foolish, as bets are apt .to be ; and some 
are more than foolish : they are indecent, unprintable. But 
some are quite decorous : 

" Ld. Montford betts Ld. Darnley that twelve members of 
the House of Commons do not die before February the I2th 
1745/6 inclusive. 

"pd." 

Betting on death was very common ; but betting on life was 
much more common. The gentlemen of England very often 
staked their money upon the arrival of an infant to one or other 
of their lady acquaintances. 

" Sir Charles Wyndham betts Mr Fox two guineas that 
Lady Trentham has a son before Lady Marchant." 

That is the sort of bet which occurs with great frequency 
in White's betting-book. But Selwyn's name is not in these 
yellow pages. If he laid bets he did not record them. It is 
probable that he preferred to win or lose money at cards : it 
was more exciting, and had the great merit of passing the time. 

We can now form a tolerable notion of George Selwyn's life 
in these early years on the town. One day was very like 
another. George was esteemed an indolent person, so we must 
not expect him to begin the day too early. 

" You get up at nine," wrote Carlisle to him on one occasion 
(to be sure this was in 1768, when Selwyn was a little older), 
"play with Raton [his dog] till 12 in your night-gown; then 
creep down to White's to abuse Fanshawe ; are five hours at 
table ; sleep till you can escape your supper reckoning ; then 
make two wretches carry you with 3 pints of claret in you, 
3 miles for a shilling." 

This may have been George's day in 1768 ; but in the 



SELWYN ON THE TOWN 67 

forties and fifties he was more vigorous, and we can only accept 
Carlisle's programme up till twelve noon. After that, and before 
the time for the ordinary at White's, which was between three and 
five o'clock, George had a few hours to spare. He might occupy 
these in various ways. If there was an execution at Tower 
Hill he would go eastwards to see it ; and in another chapter 
we shall go eastwards with him and watch the rebel lords 
having their heads cut off, as he did. Or, since he was a young 
man of spirit, and intensely curious about all kinds of life, he 
might attend one of the Rev. John Henley's lectures at Clare 
Market, and create some diverson by heckling the orator, as he 
did (with his friends Mr C. and Mr B.) in January 1745-6. 
" You have been at this sport before," wrote Mr Henley to him 
in a friendly letter ; and perhaps he had, in his wild Oxford 
days. Early in the afternoon Selwyn would stroll down St 
James's Street (he lived in Bond Street then), looking in 
perhaps at Betty's, the fruiterer's, where the young men gathered 
sometimes for a gossip. He reached White's about three, in 
time for dinner, for folk dined early, and supped late, when 
George II. was King. After dinner the serious business of the 
day began. Gaming jackets were donned, and George and his 
friends sat down to play at macco, or picquet, or lansquenet, 
whatever lansquenet was. Meanwhile the wine circulated, and 
bon-mots were perpetrated with alarming frequency : that is to 
say, if we are to believe tradition. Only in this case I am 
afraid tradition is not altogether to be believed, and think 
that, more often than not, George and his friends merely 
swore and told naughty stories. The Hon. Richard Rigby, 
a White's man, shall describe one of these evenings for us. 
Rigby was a friend, but not an intimate friend, of Selwyn's. 
His name appears in some of the most improper bets in the 
betting-book ; and, on the whole, he was not a pleasant kind of 
man. 

" Am just got home from a cock-match," he writes to Selwyn 
on I2th March 1745, at seven o'clock, "where I have won forty 
pounds in ready money ; and not having dined, am waiting till 
I hear the rattle of the coaches from the House of Commons in 
order to dine at White's ; . . . I held my resolution (on the 
previous night) of not going to the Ridotto till past 3 o'clock ; 
when, finding nobody was willing to sit any longer but Boonc, 



68 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

who was not able, I took, as I thought, the least of two evils, and 
so went there rather than to bed, but found it so infinitely dull 
that I retired in half-an-hour. The next morning I heard there 
had been extreme deep play, and that Harry Furnese went 
drunk from White's at 6 o'clock and won the dear memorable 
sum of one thousand guineas." 

Rio;by left the club at three in the morning to go to a "ridotto." 
What was a " ridotto " ? The mention of the word suggests 
another member of White's, John James Heidegger, the in- 
ventor of ridottos. Heidegger was the man who first conceived 
the idea of acclimatising the masquerade in England. He 
began in a small way in the Haymarket : established a series 
of masked balls, for which he issued tickets at a guinea apiece 
or more. The balls became immensely popular. Everybody 
who wanted to see life went to Mr Heidegger's masquerades, 
where you could dance with all kinds of romantic and mys- 
terious personages from midnight till dawn. Mr Heidegger 
prospered. He issued his tickets from White's Chocolate 
House ; and in course of time, when he had increased in wealth 
and in reputation, he was elected a member of the club. But 
then something happened. The moralist began to attack 
Mr Heidegger's masquerades in the Haymarket It appeared 
that they were the resort of improper persons of both sexes, 
which is not at all unlikely. Every poetaster and coffee-house 
satirist had his fling at the Haymarket performances. Their 
popularity began to wane. It was then that Mr Heidegger proved 
his true genius by re-christening them. They were no longer 
to be known as masquerades : henceforth they were ridottos. 

" In Lent if masquerades displease the town 
Call 'em Ridottos, and they still go down. 
Go on Prince Phiz, to please the British Nation 
Call thy next masquerade a Convocation." 

Thus wrote the Rev. Mr Bramston, a gentleman whose 
taste was so nice that he disapproved of St Paul's. However, 
a ridotto was a new and mysterious thing to the English satirist 
and to the English public. The satirist found that he required 
some new adjectives ; the public found that it was absolutely 
necessary to patronise the ridotto, just to see what it was like. 
So under its new name the masked ball became for half-a- 



69 

century quite a feature of town life ; and among other things, 
Mr Heidegger made a great fortune, and retired to a country 
house at Barnes, where he actually entertained royalty. The 
ridotto figures frequently in George Selwyn's letters and in 
those of his friends ; and no doubt, like Rigby, he often left the 
club in the small hours and went to the Haymarket, and joined 
in the revels there. Or there was Marybone, with its music, its 
wine, and its plum-cake ; or Ranelagh, newly opened in these 
days, where one could also have music and dancing, and fire- 
works, and gardens to walk in ; or, finally, Vauxhall, that old 
favourite of the British public. Only if we followed Selwyn to 
all these places, and drew fancy pictures of evenings he might 
or might not have spent in them, there is no reason why this 
chapter should ever end. 

. . . Indeed, as any picture of George Selwyn's life at this 
time must necessarily be largely fanciful, as in these early 
years he walks like a shadow through the letters of his friends, 
would it not be wise to resort at once to a genuine work of 
fiction, and read in it how a contemporary young man of fashion 
spent his days and nights in London ? Take down " The Vir- 
ginians " from its shelf, and read afresh the adventures of Mr 
Harry Warrington, as narrated by the master of all of us who 
attempt to write about the eighteenth century. There are, of 
course, some adventures missing. Thackeray confessed that he 
could not in those polite early-Victorian days describe accur- 
ately the life of a young man of fashion like Mr Warrington. 
" The pure and outraged nineteenth century would blush, scream, 
run out of the room, call away the young ladies, and order Mr 
Mudie never to send one of that odious author's books again." 
And the same limitations must be observed to-day in the case 
of Mr George Selwyn. George was not a thoroughly immoral 
man like his friend March. But still, he did know a good many 
people whom perhaps he ought not to have known, and we must 
be careful. The twentieth century, like the nineteenth, might 
blush, scream, etc., only that nowadays it is the daughters who 
would be shocked, and who would firmly refuse the book to 
their mothers. Read, then, the adventures of Mr Warrington, 
and remember that, the name having been changed, the fables 
narrated concerning him might be narrated equally well con- 
cerning Mr Selwyn. 



CHAPTER V 

THE FIRST SELWYN CIRCLE 

TO read the letters of George Selwyn and of his friends 
is to make the acquaintance of a vast number of people 
of importance in their day. And we really make their 
acquaintance ; they come out of the world of shadows and speak 
to us with their own voices, and look at us, as it were, with the 
eyes which Sir Joshua put on canvas. We get to know these 
people chiefly because they are discovered in moments of relaxa- 
tion : at dinner, in the clubs, at the play, or going to see a man 
hanged. The historian of the eighteenth century shows us the 
same people on duty, dressed to receive the public. In his pages 
the King is an institution, entirely hidden from the vulgar ; 
statesmen like Lord Chatham are immensely awful and remote, 
makers of war and of peace ; Mr Pitt and Mr Fox belabour each 
other in an eternal House of Commons. But in the Selwyn 
letters the patricians of the eighteenth century lose their puppet 
quality and suddenly become alive. Selwyn goes down to St 
James's, and talks to the King, and makes his bow to the Queen. 
The King says he doesn't believe George will ever leave off play 
as long as he lives ; and George smiles, and hopes his Majesty 
is not prophet as well as king. Chatham is a gouty old man 
who takes the waters at Bath for his health ; the Duke of Grafton 
comes into Almack's and gets a cool nod from Selwyn, who is 
writing letters there ; Mr Fox is merely " Charles," an " aspiring 
patriot," an aggravating young gentleman with a profound belief 
in his own parts and a faculty for involving his friends and 
himself in the most extraordinary monetary difficulties. Or if 
you are interested in beauty, Lady Sarah Bunbury will meet 
Selwyn to hear the latest news of Lord Carlisle, who is absent 
on the Grand Tour ; and Elizabeth Gunning will complain to 
Lady Townshend that " Mr Selwyn and Mr Williams promised 
to send her a constant account of Lady Coventry, but that they 
had never wrote to her one line." This was George Selwyn's 
world. He moved in it easily and naturally, nodding to this 

70 



THE FIRST SELWYN CIRCLE 71 

one and chatting to that, and turning his back on the other. 
It was Horace Walpole's world too, and we have all read about 
it in his letters. But Horace's letters are works of art. They 
are life, certainly, but life improved upon, selected, arranged. 
The bon-mots are polished as if they were precious stones ; 
events are noted, not because they occurred, but because they 
happen to be picturesque ; in everything is displayed the prac- 
tised literary hand. These other letters to and by Selwyn, 
however, are neither selected nor arranged by the writers. 
They have the warm touch of actual life, and convince by 
the absence of that very quality which has made Walpole's 
immortal. 

George Selwyn, then, was a man of many friends, all moving 
in this patrician world. He was the link that bound together 
many other men of diverse interests, likes, and dislikes. It is 
quite true that, being a sensitive and somewhat morbid person, 
he was himself often extremely sceptical upon this point. He 
would frequently complain that hardly anybody really cared 
for him : a common enough complaint with those who miss 
domestic love in life, as Selwyn did. " I do not agree with 
you," wrote Gilly Williams to him once, " in your constant de- 
clarations that, except three or four people, the rest are indiffer- 
ent to you." He certainly had three or four intimados, as 
Charles Lamb might say ; but " the rest " were not by any 
means indifferent to him. On the contrary, no man of his time 
had more people who were genuinely attached to him than 
George Selwyn. We need not stop to account for this. Selwyn 
had the rare secret of personal charm : the faculty of attracting 
friends easily and at first sight. It was a charm, however, which 
had its strict limitations. Selwyn, for example, was essentially 
a man's man. He numbered many women among his friends ; 
but they were mostly clever, witty, women, who talked well at 
dinner ; and they were only friends. We never hear of a love 
affair in his life. He seems indeed to have had a certain aver- 
sion from the other sex ; an aversion which gave a great deal 
of amusement to his male acquaintances. Lord Holland, for 
example, writes to him : "My Lady Mary goes [to a masquerade] 
dressed like Zara, and I wish you to attend her dressed like a 
black eunuch " ; and in another letter Gilly Williams makes an 
unmentionable reference to Selwyn and Horace Walpole, based 



72 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

on the aversion from women of both these gentlemen. As we 
are upon this point, it may be said at once that George Selwyn 
had not the grossly immoral character which has sometimes 
been attributed to him. He possibly had irregular relations 
with women (though he never, apparently, kept a mistress), like 
all young men of his class and time ; but if so they were very 
infrequent ; they played a comparatively insignificant part in 
his life. And this not because George had elevated ideas about 
morality, or thought it wrong to do as others did. On the con- 
trary, he was as immoral, or rather, perhaps, as unmoral, as 
most of his fellows. But women, as women, had simply no 
attraction for him. March was fond of his Zamperinis and his 
Renas. Well, that was all right ; but give Selwyn a good 
dinner, a bottle of wine, and " the rigour of the game," and he 
was perfectly happy. This man loved children, but he did not 
love women, and perhaps women did not love him. It is an 
extraordinary thing that, search as closely as we may, we cannot 
discover that Selwyn, good-looking, kind-hearted, eligible, was 
ever "in love." He never sighed for a maiden. Did a maiden 
ever sigh for him ? Nobody knows. And we need not stop to 
ask the reason of, or to discuss superfluous hypotheses that have 
been put forward to account for, Selwyn's lovelessness. Let it 
stand that he was one of those men (happily few) who are not 
attracted by the other sex. In the sphere of friendship, however, 
he had few rivals. It is far more easy to say who were not 
George Selwyn's friends among the rank and fashion of the 
eighteenth century than to catalogue those who were. But 
there were circles within circles, greater and lesser constella- 
tions revolving round the central sun. Let us speak first of 
George's intimates, and afterwards a word may be spared for 
those who were further away. 

Among Selwyn's hosts of friends, two men claimed the first 
place in his regard. One was " Gilly " Williams ; the other the 
Earl of March and Ruglen. These two were even a little 
jealous upon the point " Thank you, my dear George," wrote 
Gilly Williams once, "for including me in your pacquet of 
friends. Not even March himself is worthier of that appella- 
tion, for no one can esteem and love you better." And again : 
" March says he intends to write to you this post, and as I 
love you as much as he does, I am determined for this time 



THE FIRST SELWYN CIRCLE 73 

to be a better correspondent." At this distance of time, how- 
ever, there is little doubt as to who should be placed first, and 
it is not Gilly Williams. March was the nearest, the most 
trusted, and the most constant of Selwyn's friends for a period 
of nearly half-a-century. Gilly Williams came next, at a not 
very long interval. But Williams was so sprightly and so 
amusing that no biographer of George Selwyn could keep him 
waiting until the second turn, even for such a man as the Earl 
of March and Ruglen. 

Nothing very much is known about George James (" Gilly ") 
Williams, perhaps because there is nothing very much to know. 
Lawyers are familiar with certain musty old reports which are 
generally cited as " P. Wms." Gilly was the son of this 
Williams, whose Christian names were William Peere. William 
Peere was a successful lawyer ; his son was only a suc- 
cessful man about town. He was born in the same year 
as Selwyn, lived in the same street in London (Cleveland 
Court), was a member of the same club, had the same friends, 
and very much the same virtues and vices. In early days he 
consorted much with Selwyn, and was one of the " out-of-town 
party" who met at Strawberry Hill, the other members being 
Selwyn, Dick Edgecumbe, and the master of Strawberry him- 
self. Gilly was a placeman also, being appointed Receiver- 
General of Excise in 1774, no doubt by his nephew by marriage, 
Lord North. The rest is silence. We cannot point to anything 
Gilly Williams ever did to justify his being remembered by 
posterity. But he must have been an amusing companion, as 
he was certainly a warm-hearted friend. His reputation for 
wit a little alarmed him. " I have desired Lord R. Bertie to 
propose me at White's," he observes in 1751. "Don't let any 
member shake his head at me for a wit, for God knows he 
may as well reject me for being a giant." But here Gilly was 
too modest. He is at least the most racy of correspondents. 
Between seventy and eighty of his letters to Selwyn have been 
printed, and they are (as Mr Jesse might say) "among the 
most agreeable of the collection." They extend over a period 
of twenty years, and are far more lively than Walpole's, if not 
so finely wrought. Gilly does not trouble to turn his phrases 
in Walpole's neat literary way, but he does manage to write a 
letter which bubbles with humour. It would be easy to quote 



74 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

a score of instances of this quality from his correspondence : " I 
congratulate you," he writes to Selwyn in 1747, "on the near 
approach of Parliament, and figure you to myself before a glass 
at your rehearsals. I must intimate to you not to forget 
closing your periods with a magnificent stroke of the breast : 
and recommend Mr Barry as a pattern, who I think pathetically 
excels in that beauty. You rejoice me much in telling me 
our venerable archdeacon survived his last year's debauch on 
the fowls and egg-sauce ; and don't doubt but by your annual 
visits Mr Cole receives an annual refreshment." " You must 
have observed that most letters from the country are spun 
out by descanting on those received, and which they attempt 
answering ; and that every sentence begins with being either 
sorry or glad." " Squinting Wilkes and liberty are everything 
with us now. It is scarce safe to go to the other side of 
Temple Bar without having that obliquity of vision." 

But Gilly was not only a humorist : he was a shrewd deline- 
ator of character as well. Take for example his sketches of the 
Coventry family. Selwyn was an intimate friend of the first 
Lady Coventry (Maria Gunning), and when she died, he 
took a great interest in little Nanny Coventry, her daughter. 
When he went to Paris, as he so often did in his middle years, 
he used to receive from Williams regular reports as to Nanny 
and her doings : where she was, how she was, and what she 
looked like. But Gilly's pen did not stop at Nanny. Nanny's 
father amused him very much, and the second marriage of 
Nanny's father was an exquisite joke. The whole story can 
be pieced together from Gilly's letters ; it is as good an example 
of his epistolary style as any other : " This packet brings very 
serious news indeed. I received a notification in form last 
night that Nanny would shortly bend the knee to Bab St John 
as her mother-in-law [stepmother]. God grant this woman 
long life, or the poor children will have more odd uncles, aunts, 
and cousins, than any people of their condition in England." 
This was on 2Oth July 1764. A little later: "the King has 
most graciously acceded to the match, and told the Earl she 
was the wisest, prudentest, handsomest of his subjects." The 
marriage took place on 27th September. On the 29th Gilly 
wrote : " You may talk as you please of what you have seen 
and heard since we parted, but I would not have given up 



THE FIRST SELWYN CIRCLE 75 

my last night's supper for the whole put together. The Earl 
brought his new Countess to Margaret Street the night after 
the consummation. You know him so well, that I daresay 
you are perfectly master of his words and actions on such an 
occasion ; and as for her ladyship, it was all prettiness, fright, 
insipidity, question and answer, which neither good stuffs, 
diamonds, a new chair, with a very large coronet in the centre, 
like the Queen's neither of these I say, had power to alter ; 
and as my friend was never cut out for decent and matrimonial 
gallantry a very awkward air made them both as entertaining 
a couple as ever I passed an hour with." " You will certainly 
want to know how the children relish their new relative. I 
will give you a trait of Nanny that pleased me. When 
Mademoiselle broke it to them Maria cried, and the little one 
said, 'Do not cry, sister! If she is civil to us we will be 
civil to her ; if not, you know we can sit up in our rooms, and 
take no notice of her.' There is a degree of philosophy in 
this infant that I do not think age can improve." October 
the 8th : " Her little ladyship seems happy and tolerably 
reconciled to her new mamma. ... I like the behaviour 
of the children much, and likewise the propriety of Bab's 
behaviour to them ; but you would have laughed to have 
seen what a hearty kiss the little one would often give Made- 
moiselle, as looking upon her as the only real friend she had in 
the family. You can easily imagine such a scene wanted a 
second person, equally acquainted, equally interested, and 
equally disposed to enjoy it : if you had been at our party it 
would have been complete. There is no possibility of saying 
more of her at present than that she is very pretty : the rest 
is all grimace ; but as to his lordship, he certainly surpasses 
all you can conceive of him ; his plantations, his house, his 
wife, his plate, his equipage, his etc. etc. etc. are all topics 
that call forth his genius continually. ... I do not love to 
deal in horoscopes, but his lordship will certainly tire of this 
plaything, as he has done of all he has hitherto played with, 
and be plagued with the noise of the rattle when he is no longer 
pleased with blowing the whistle. He means to instruct by 
lectures in his table-talk, and by drawing pictures of good and 
bad wives. You know how he succeeded in the last ; God 
grant him better success in his present plan." "Poor Lady 



76 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

Coventry makes an excellent mother, but God help her ! a most 
unworthy successor to the bustle and uproar which followed 
that name formerly." " Pray, dear George send some serious 
admonitions to your daughter Nanny. Her spirit is much 
beyond that of her late mamma's. There is seldom a night she 
does not fight us all round. The very last night of all, she hit 
me a box of the ear, and told her good-natured step-mother not 
to be so impertinent as to trouble her head about her. The 
father talks to her out of Lord Halifax's ' Advice to his 
daughters' which, God knows, comes much too early in the 
day for her comprehension, so that I fear she will be outdone 
before she knows that she is to blame. . . . The house is full of 
tobacco ; the yard is full of tenants, and the Peer, with an 
important face, is telling us how much he pays to the land- 
tax." 

Gilly Williams' published letters to Selwyn cease in 1770. 
But there is no reason to believe that the friendship of the 
two men was ever diminished. On the contrary, there are 
many references to Gilly in the later correspondence of George 
Selwyn. He is always "dining with Williams," or playing 
pharo with Williams, or seeing him at the house of some 
mutual acquaintance. Gilly survived his friend by many years, 
dying at his house in Cleveland Court in 1805. In his last pub- 
lished letter to Selwyn, he says : " I always found myself treated 
in that set [Madame du Deffand's] as a jeune gar^on, qui 
n'avait point encore 1'habitude du monde. Faith! there may 
have been some ground for it." There was indeed some ground 
for it. We must always think of Gilly as a jeune gargon : 
boyish, irresponsible, gay. He never quite grew up, which is, 
perhaps, the reason why Selwyn liked him so much. It is also, 
perhaps, the reason why Horace Walpole tolerated rather than 
liked him : Walpole, who was never anything else than grown up. 
Williams was the only man of his set who kept constantly young 
to the end. 

The most confident biographer (even in this age of confidence 
in the art) might well pause before giving a sketch of the next 
member of the Selwyn circle, the Earl of March and Ruglen. 
For here is the Wicked Nobleman of melodrama in real life. 
And, as writers of melodrama are invariably bungling persons, 
who, in their eagerness to make the nobleman wicked, only 



77 

succeed in making him ridiculous, it may easily be guessed 
that in this case life leaves melodrama far behind. March was 
wicked, but there was nothing absurd about him. He was 
dreadfully natural and normal. You would never have taken 
him for a monster if you had met him at dinner at Selwyn's, or 
playing hazard at White's, or in the paddock at Newmarket : 
there were no outward marks of the beast upon him. He had 
a scheme of life, a vicious scheme, if you will, which he lived 
out calmly and deliberately, and with no faltering or remorse. 
Melodrama would have made Lord March repent after great 
misfortunes, or, failing that, would have brought him to a violent 
and (the gallery would declare) well-merited end. But in real 
life neither of these things happened ; and this, I think, is why 
real life is so much more impressive than melodrama. Lord 
March never repented ; he had no misfortunes worth mention- 
ing ; and his end (so far as we know) was peace. It is all a 
sad puzzle for the moralist. Well, the legends about this 
nobleman who is now better known to us as " old Q," but who, 
as Selwyn's friend, is more familiar as Lord March the legends 
about him " are awful," as Thackeray said. So they are. But 
legends have a way of obscuring the real truth about a man. 
They seize hold of one phase of his character and exaggerate it 
until there is no character left : there is nothing but an incar- 
nate quality. Our friend the writer of transpontine literature 
does exactly the same thing. And in each case the man ceases 
to be a man, and becomes a monster, something more or less 
than human. Lord March has suffered in this way. He has 
been smothered in legends. You decline to believe that this 
astonishing figure ever walked the pavements of Piccadilly, or 
played hazard with Selwyn in St James's. He is a rank Surrey 
villain, and should stay on his own side of the river. It is true 
that whitewashing villains is a very popular amusement nowa- 
days, almost as popular as pulling down saints from their pedes- 
tals. But we need not whitewash this villain. Let us grant 
to all moralists whatsoever that Lord March was a very wicked 
man ; but then let us assert, and endeavour to prove, that he 
was a very good man also. 

March, says one writer, was "a little sharp-looking man, 
very irritable, and swore like ten thousand troopers." He was 
certainly not handsome, if his portraits are to be believed ; but 



78 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

he had the grand air ; you would never take him for anything 
but what he was, an aristocrat to his finger-tips. Put a star 
on his bosom, and a broad blue ribbon across his waistcoat, 
and he will even become the Typical Aristocrat, beloved of 
the gods. Thackeray draws him at Tunbridge Wells in a blue 
frock with plate buttons, buckskins and riding-boots, and 
wearing a little hat with a narrow cord of lace. But this was 
in the afternoon, to be sure ; at night he reappeared in a 
neatly-curled feather top, with a bag wig and grey powder, 
and in a " rich and elegant French suit " smuggled from Paris, 
no doubt, by George Selwyn. Thus attired, Lord March begins 
to emerge from the shadows. How can we establish him as a 
credible human figure ? He was Groom of the Bedchamber to 
his Majesty King George III., and was often in waiting at 
St James's, or riding out with the King in the Park : but in 
this capacity he is only human on occasion. He is human, 
for example, when, in writing to Selwyn from the Palace, he 
ends his letter abruptly with : " The King is coming ! so fare- 
well." You can almost see the lord-in-waiting hurriedly 
close and fasten his packet as the squat figure of the King 
appears in the doorway. Or again, Wraxall will paint for you 
a scene in the Duke of Queensberry's house in Piccadilly, where 
the Duke, dressed as " the Dardan Shepherd," will present an 
apple to the fairest of three females, " habited as they appeared 
to Paris on Mount Ida." " This actually happened," adds the 
chronicler solemnly ; and perhaps it did, but it was only once 
in a while. March had a normal daily life which was not 
very different from that of his friends, as we learn from his 
letters to George Selwyn. In these letters there is nothing 
about Mount Ida, and very little about the King. But there 
is a great deal about horses, and women, and cards ; we listen 
to the common tittle-tattle of St James's, the talk of horsey 
men at Newmarket. Lord March loved the turf. He went 
regularly, almost religiously, to Newmarket, although he was 
not always happy when he arrived there. " The Meeting has 
ended very ill, and I am now near a mille lower in cash than 
when we parted. . . . Bully, Lord Wilmington and myself, 
are left here to reflect coolly upon our losses, and the nonsense 
of keeping running horses." So he borrows some money from 
Selwyn for the second meeting, and "this time my dear George, 



THE FIRST SELWYN CIRCLE 79 

your money has been lucky indeed. I am returned with my 
pockets full ; by the second meeting, clear gain, four thousand 
one hundred guineas. This good fortune has come very apropos, 
and I have the pleasure of being indebted to you for it, which 
makes it still more welcome, for without your money I could 
not have risked near so much." Lord March loved horses, and 
he loved betting ; he is the hero of a hundred sporting wagers. 
After horses, he loved women, and was even faithful to them 
" in his fashion." When we come to discuss the loves of Lord 
March, however, we are indubitably on delicate ground ; for 
in that licentious age March was noted for his licence, and 
changed his mistresses far more often than he changed his sky. 
The most valiant of apologists would find it difficult to excuse 
or justify March's conduct in these matters. But Wraxall 
does suggest a certain explanation of it. He says that in 
early life March fell in love with Miss Pelham, who reciprocated 
the sentiment, but that Mr Henry Pelham would not hear of 
his daughter marrying such a wicked young man. The match 
was accordingly broken off, whereupon Lord March became 
more wicked than ever, and the lady "the most infatuated 
gamester in the three Kingdoms." This story may very well 
be true a passage in one of Gilly Williams' letters lends some 
colour to it ; but March seemed naturally to possess the cold, 
methodical temperament of the debauchee. " I wish I had set 
out immediately after Newmarket," he writes, "which I believe 
I should have done if I had not taken a violent fancy for one 
of the opera girls [the Zamperini]. This passion is a little 
abated, and I hope it will be quite so before you and the Rena 
[another mistress] come over, else I fear it will interrupt our 
society." It was really very awkward. And again : " I like 
this little girl, but how long this liking will last I cannot tell : it 
may increase or be quite at an end before you arrive." " Nous 
avons boude" un peu pour deux jours," he writes cheerfully, " but 
we shall make it up. This is an unlucky passion ; I wish I had 
never seen her." He had indeed the greatest difficulty in 
keeping his various loves in good humour, and thought women 
generally were " exceedingly wrong-headed." They would not 
see that when the unlucky passion had abated it was time to 
go. Certainly March showed them the door very gracefully ; 
he even wept at parting from them. " I am just preparing to 



80 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

conduct the poor little Tondino to Dover," he writes on one 
Wednesday morning at six o'clock ; " . . . my heart is so full 
that I can neither think, speak, nor write. How I shall be 
able to part with her, or bear to come back to this house, I do 
not know. The sound of her voice fills my eyes with fresh 
tears. My dear George, j'ai le cceur si serr que je ne suis bon a 
present qu'a pleurer. . . . Take all the care you can of her. 
Je la recommande a vous, my best and only real friend." Yes, it 
is very sad ; but somehow we get over these things. " Our 
attachment as lovers has long been at an end "but this was 
concerning the Rena, quite another lady "and when people 
live at as great a distance as we have done it is ridiculous to 
think of it." So the Rena gave place to the Tondino, and the 
Tondino to the Zamperini, and the Zamperini to somebody 
else. The best we can say for Lord March is that if he had 
married Miss Pelham he might have become an affectionate 
husband and father : his heart was not all bad. But he did 
not marry her, and he must be found guilty and delivered 
up to the moralist for a sentence adequate to his many 
crimes. 

But before convicted persons are sentenced they are, in our 
jurisprudence, allowed the benefit of any evidence of character 
which may be called in their favour. Lord March was no 
common libertine. Without any extraordinary intellectual 
gifts, he had yet an acute and vigorous mind, and a strong, 
masculine judgment. " If I were compelled to name the 
particular individual," says Wraxall, " who had received from 
nature the keenest common sense of any person I ever knew, 
I should select the Duke of Queensberry." March's letters to 
Selwyn do not, perhaps, quite bear out this extravagant esti- 
mate ; but they do show that it was at least founded on fact. 
One must admit that his judgments constantly are shrewd, even 
if one does not happen to agree with him. Thus, at a time 
when Voltaire was one of the men most execrated by English 
society, March refers to him as " poor Voltaire, who, by the 
bye, has done more real good by his writings on tolerance than 
all the priests in Europe." Or again, describing an Opposition 
speaker, " In one part of his speech he said, addressing himself 
to Wedderburn, that though a squalling starling, he thought 
he had a right to reply to the learned canary bird. In another 



THE FIRST SELWYN CIRCLE 81 

part he said, that though a poor apothecary and a quack, he 
might perhaps prescribe a remedy with success, when the regular 
physician had failed. . . . The whole was in this style, and 
Burke said, that his honourable friend had spoken like an inde- 
pendent country gentleman, and a very accomplished orator." 
This is the sarcastic method in perfection. But it is question- 
able if March had any great sense of humour. He was, perhaps, 
the only member of the early Selwyn circle who was not a wit, 
professed or otherwise. One would have said confidently that 
he was an entirely serious person but for an anecdote related by 
Mr William Wilberforce which goes to show, first, that March 
had humour, and second, that Wilberforce had none. " I 
remember," says the philanthropist, "dining when I was a 
young man with the Duke of Queensberry at his Richmond 
Villa. The party was very small and select Pitt, Lord and 
Lady Chatham, the Marchioness of Gordon, and George Selwyn 
(who lived for society and continued in it, till he looked really 
like the wax-work figure of a corpse), were among the guests. 
We dined early, that some of our party might be ready to 
attend the opera. The dinner was sumptuous, the views from 
the villa quite enchanting, and the Thames in all its glory : 
but the Duke looked on with indifference ' What is there,' 
he said, ' to make so much of in the Thames ? There it goes, 
flow, flow, flow, always the same.' " With exquisite solemnity 
Mr Wilberforce relates this as an anecdote about the Duke 
of Queensberry. It is rather an anecdote about Mr William 
Wilberforce. 

The finest thing in the life of Lord March the thing which 
redeems it from being an entirely selfish life was his close 
friendship with George Selwyn. It began in very early days 
in London, and it continued without a break until Selwyn's 
death in 1791. These two men had not so very much in 
common. March loved women and horses ; Selwyn was 
indifferent to both. Selwyn dabbled in politics, and was a 
House of Commons man for over thirty years ; March looked 
on politics with a cold, contemptuous, eye, and wondered how 
sensible men could engage in them, when there were so many 
other interesting things to do. But there was not an entire 
dissimilarity of tastes between the two. Both loved play, clubs, 
Paris, the easy life of the man of pleasure and of fashion. There 



82 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

was something almost pathetic in March's attachment to Selwyn. 
It was like that of a younger brother to an elder (March was 
the younger by five years), in whose judgment and good sense 
he reposes the most unwavering confidence. 

March's letters are full of this feeling. " How can you 
think, my dear George," he writes, "and I hope you do not 
think, that anybody or anything, can make a tracasserie 
between you and me? I take it ill that you even talk of it, 
which you do in the letter I had by Ligonier. I must be the 
poorest creature upon earth after having known you so long, 
and always as the best and sincerest friend that anyone ever 
had, if anyone alive can make any impression upon me, where 
you are concerned. I told you, in a letter I wrote some time 
ago, that I depended more upon the continuance of our friend- 
ship than anything else in the world, which I certainly do, 
because I have so many reasons to know you, and I am sure I 
know myself." 

And again : " There is now one thing that I depend upon in 
this world, which is that you and I shall always love one another 
as long as we remain in it." 

Their love was so genuine that they drew freely upon each 
other's banking accounts, which is, after all, a severe test of 
friendship in this world of ours. " I shall be obliged," says 
March, " to take a thousand of yours to go down [to Newmarket] 
but it will be replaced in a few days." 

On another occasion he writes a letter which is worth tran- 
scribing in full : 

" MY DEAR GEORGE, I have lost my match and am quite 
broke. I cannot tell you how much. I am obliged to you for 
thinking of my difficulties and providing for them in the midst 
of your own. Let me hear soon. Yours very affectionately, 

" M. and R." 

It is the same thing when Selwyn loses. "So you have 
lost a thousand pounds " (March to Selwyn), " which you have 
done twenty times in your life-time, and won it again as often, 
and why should not the same thing happen again ? ... As to 
your banker, make yourself easy about that, for I have three 
thousand pounds now at Coutts'. There will be no bankruptcy 



THE FIRST SELWYN CIRCLE 83 

without we are both ruined at the same time." In appraising 
Lord March's life and conduct we must not forget this fine 
friendship with Selwyn. We must put it in the scale against 
those taints and vices with which the pens of a hundred makers 
of books have rendered us familiar. It will not weigh the 
balance even, of course ; for in the present texture of society 
virtue is regarded, and perhaps rightly regarded, as of more 
importance than love. But even the most rigid moralist might 
pause before sentence is pronounced upon the Duke of Queens- 
berry. He might pause long enough to ask himself the question 
whether he has ever instructed his banker to honour the cheques 
of his dear friend Brown. It is one thing to give tithes of 
anise, mint, and cummin ; but we can all do that on occasion, 
especially when we have an audience. The other is much 
more difficult. 

Legends gather thick about the head of Lord March when 
he is no longer Lord March, but fourth Duke of Queensberry. 
He owns a villa at Richmond, where he is in the habit of holding 
" orgies," assisted by his friends of the corps di ballet. Then 
there is the famous house in Piccadilly, where Silenus sits on a 
balcony under a green parasol (it was green, was it not ?) ogling 
with his remaining eye every pretty girl that passes. There is 
the groom on horseback ready to pursue the pretty girl, at a 
nod from his master. The groom's name is John Radford, 
whether married or single not stated. The raw veal cutlets, 
the morning baths of milk (affecting for years the reputation 
of the entire metropolitan milk supply), Mount Ida and the 
Dardan Shepherd : are not these tales to be found in all self- 
respecting works of reference ? They are perhaps not entirely 
false. But if the Duke of Queensberry sat on a balcony under 
a green etc., it was not only for the purpose of looking at pretty 
girls. He was probably quite as glad to see George Selwyn 
drive up from Twickenham in Horry Walpole's chariot, and 
stop at his (Q 's) door, and come up to the balcony, and share 
the green umbrella. March never ceased to be a libertine, but 
he also never quite arrived at being a fool : and the Marchian 
legends invariably represent him as a fool. There is, of course, 
something strangely tragical about March's old age, for it is 
the old age of a man who had the capacity to do something 
important in life, and who did nothing, or less than nothing ; 



84 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

who saw his failure with a terrible clearness, and did not regret 
it ; who looked back over a long career of pleasure and of 
vice, and found it good. But the essence of tragedy is dignity, 
and there was a certain dignity about Lord March's end. 
Wraxall, who was a toady and a busybody, and who did not 
know the duke half so well as he pretended, nevertheless 
made the truest reflection upon this. "Notwithstanding," says 
he, " the libertine life that he had led, he contemplated with 
great firmness and composure of mind his approaching end, 
and almost imminent dissolution ; while Dr Johnson, a man of 
exemplary moral conduct, and personally courageous, could 
not bear the mention of death, nor look without shuddering at 
a thigh-bone in a churchyard." Wraxall is right, although 
perhaps it was by chance. Johnson, the saint, dies like a 
sinner ; Queensberry, the sinner, dies like a saint. There is no 
moral here, except that a man is the victim of his temperament 
in a greater degree than most people imagine. But we must 
not go to the other extreme from that of the makers of legends, 
and become sentimental over the last days of " old Q." Let 
him go down to posterity as a black sheep : 

" If white and black blend, soften, and unite 
In thousand ways, is there no black and white ? '' 

Of course there is, Mr Pope. But most people can remember 
that. The difficulty is to make them remember that there is 
such a colour as grey. 

Richard Edgecumbe, the next name on the list of Selwyn's 
friends, has been best described by Horace Walpole in an anec- 
dote which will bear repetition. " met Dick Edgecumbe," 

he writes, "and asked him with great importance if he knew 
whether Mr Pitt was out. Edgecumbe, who thinks nothing im- 
portant that is not to be decided by dice, and who consequently 
had never once thought of Pitt's political state, replied, ' Yes." 
' Ay ! How do you know ? ' ' Why, I called at his door just now 
and his porter told me so.' " Edgecumbe, it will be seen, had a 
vein of humour, like most of his friends ; but " thinks nothing 
important that is not to be decided by dice " hits him off in a 
phrase. You are to figure him as a little chubby man, so little, 
indeed, that he was less than George II. ; a fact which pleased 
the other little man immensely. Edgecumbe was at Eton with 



THE FIRST SELWYN CIRCLE 85 

Selwyn and Walpole ; but we make his acquaintance at an even 
earlier period than this, and in connection with a name more 
famous than either of these. We meet him first at Plympton, 
which is not far from Mount Edgecumbe, where Dick was born 
and brought up. He had a young friend there named Reynolds, 
who could draw and paint a little, it seemed. Dick " put him 
up" to sketching a certain "jolly moon-faced parson," the 
Rev. Thomas Smart, who comes down to posterity like the 
proverbial fly in amber, because he happened to be the (perhaps 
unworthy) subject of Joshua Reynolds' first picture. Edgecumbe 
was thus one of the earliest friends of Sir Joshua, and one of 
his earliest patrons too. He was something of a connoisseur : 
was a member, for example, of the Dilettanti Society, 1 who kept 
a painter of their own ; and he himself dabbled both in paint 
and in poetry. It was he who painted the arms of White's for 
Horace Walpole : no very difficult task, it is true. Edgecumbe 
kept up his friendship with Selwyn and Walpole from the Eton 
days ; was a member of White's with them ; was " chief herald 
painter " to Walpole's " Out-of-Town " party, and spent many a 
merry evening at Strawberry with Selwyn and Gilly Williams. 
The master of Strawberry, wishing at once to patronise the fine 
arts and to possess a record of his " Out-of-Town," commissioned 
Sir Joshua to paint the portraits of these three men in a " con- 
versation piece/' which he accordingly did, and the picture 
hung at Strawberry Hill for many a day. Walpole has pre- 
served Edgecumbe's name from oblivion in the same way as 
he has preserved Selwyn's : by recording his jokes. They are 
not very good jokes, perhaps, but they are good enough for 
a " miscellany " letter. " Between the French and the earth- 
quakes," writes Walpole in 1756, "you have no notion how 
good we have grown ; nobody makes a suit of clothes now but 
of sackcloth turned up with ashes. The fast was kept so dumbly, 
that Dick Edgecumbe, finding a very lean hazard at White's, 
said with a sigh, ' Lord, how the times are degenerated ! 
Formerly a fast would have brought everybody hither ; now 
it keeps everybody away ! ' ' Poor Edgecumbe had a short but 
merry career. He entered the House of Commons in the same 
year as George Selwyn (1747); stayed there till 1754; was 

1 George Selwyn was also a member of the " Dilettanti," but he was not 
elected until 1770. 



86 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

a Lord of the Admiralty in 1755, and Comptroller of the 
Household in 1756 ; and died in 1761, at the early age 
of forty-five. Only one set of verses by him survives : " The 
Fable of the Ass, Nightingale and Kid," the quality of which 
may be judged by the following extract : 

" Once on a time it came to pass, 
A Nightingale, a Kid, and Ass, 
A Jack one, all set out together, 
Upon a trip no matter whither. 
And through a village chanced to take 
Their journey where there was a wake 
With lads and lasses all assembled : 
Our travellers, whose genius them led 
Each his own way, resolved to taste 
Their share o' the sport we're not in haste, 
First cries the Nightingale, and I 
Delight in music mightily ! 
Let's have a tune ay, come, let's stop, 
Replied the Kid, and have a hop. . . ." 

Edgecumbe was not a poet ; but he achieved the proud suc- 
cess of being included in Walpole's " Catalogue of Noble 
Authors." The compiler professed a real regard for him as 
real, that is, as he ever professed for anybody. " In a day or 
two " says he, " I expect Mr Williams, George Selwyn, and 
Dick Edgecumbe. You will allow that when I do admit any- 
body within my cloister, I choose them well." Dick died on 
the 1 3th of May. On the I4th Walpole writes a long letter to 
his friend Montagu, telling how Jemmy Lumley had a party of 
whist at his own house last week ; relates his adventures after- 
wards ; and tells a naughty story about the Duchess of Argyle. 
But there is no mention of poor Dick. At the following 
Christmas, however, the polite letter-writer drops a decorous 
tear in his memory : " I have been my out-of-town with Lord 
Waldegrave, Selwyn, and Williams ; it was melancholy, the 
missing poor Edgecumbe, who was constantly of the Christmas 
and Easter parties. Did you see the charming picture Rey- 
nolds painted for me of him, Selwyn, and Williams? It is by 
far one of the best things he has painted." Edgecumbe never 




a F 



O S 



W o 

5 > 



u < 



.," 7. 

> i 



THE FIRST SELWYN CIRCLE 87 

married. He left four illegitimate children, however, by his 
mistress, Anne Franks, for whom he appointed by his will 
Horace Walpole trustee. History does not record what Wai- 
pole thought of his trusteeship. 

When we travel outside the inner circle of Selwyn's friends 
we find many less intimate acquaintances who deserve a more 
extended notice than one is able to give them here. There is 
Richard Rigby, for example, Paymaster of his Majesty's 
Forces, an amusing, lewd, pushing placeman ; Lord Bucking- 
ham, with whom Selwyn lodged, in 1745, "up two pair of stairs 
in a room at half a guinea a week " ; George, afterwards first 
Marquis Townshend, and his brother Charles ; and a host of 
others. But one name we must linger on for a time, partly 
because it is that of a relative and close friend of Selwyn's, and 
partly because it is that of a man whose type naturally attracts 
the writer of biography. Sir Charles Hanbury Williams was 
George Selwyn's first cousin. His father, John Hanbury, 
married Albinia, sister of Colonel John Selwyn and daughter 
of General William Selwyn, whom most books of reference 
persist in calling "John." (The Dictionary of National Bio- 
graphy does it, and adds insult to injury by referring to him as 
a major of militia.) Charles Hanbury had a godfather named 
Williams, who left young Hanbury a fortune on condition that 
he would take his godfather's name : which he accordingly did. 
Hanbury Williams makes a great figure in the social history of 
the mid-eighteenth century. He flashed like a meteor across 
the fields of literature, politics, and diplomacy. He was the 
schoolfellow and friend of Henry Fielding. From his house 
Henry Fox made the runaway match with Lady Caroline 
Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Richmond : a match which 
threw the entire patrician world into moral mourning. Sir 
Charles was rich and handsome ; had a pretty turn for light 
verse ; was a model of fashion for all the young bucks of St 
James's Street. Diplomacy called him or rather, he called to 
it and he went abroad, first as envoy to Dresden, then to 
Berlin, Vienna, Petersburg. He was a brilliant diplomatist, 
if writing brilliant despatches entitle him to that adjective ; 
and, as it happened, his brilliancy was his undoing. He had 
nearly concluded a swift and sensational treaty with Russia, in 
which Austria was to join, when, at the last moment, Maria 



88 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

Theresa withdrew, the British Government withdrew, and Sir 
Charles received from home, not thanks, but a cold letter of 
censure. This was distinctly unjust ; for the Government, and 
even the King himself, had pressed on the treaty by every 
means in their power. 1 But governments (and kings) were 
like that in the eighteenth century ; and if Williams, instead of 
being brilliant, had been humdrum ; if, instead of forcing the 
pace in " the honeymoon " of his ambassadorship, to use his 
own phrase, he had allowed things to drift in the ordinary 
diplomatic manner, all would have been well. The result of 
this miscarriage was very sad. Sir Charles lost his reason ; 
came home by slow stages to England ; and died by his own 
hand (it is said) : a victim to brilliancy : an awful example of 
the value of humdrum in British politics. He was only fifty- 
one when he died. 

Sir Charles Williams was undoubtedly a man of distinguished 
parts. In the sphere of high politics he is more akin to 
Canning than perhaps to any other statesman. He had the 
same incisive touch, the same invincible gaiety, the same con- 
tempt for the mediocre and the dull. But it was as a writer of 
satirical verse that Sir Charles was most famous in his own day. 
Long after his death an industrious compiler issued a selection 
of his verse, together with certain of his letters, in three volumes. 
Thomas Carlyle looked at it once, and dismissed it with a 
contemptuous reference to " the slop-pails of an extinct genera- 
tion." There is, no doubt, something of the slop-pail about 
more than one of these poetical pieces ; but that is not by any 
means the whole truth. The Quarterly reviewer is nearer it 
who said that Williams had " a real vein for writing squibs he 
had gaiety the quality which is found in the lighter verses of 
Congreve, or the playful pages of the Twopenny Post Bag." 
In fact Sir Charles Williams was quite one of the most effective 
squib-writers in an age when squib-writing was an art of some 
importance. Can we fancy our statesmen to-day waiting in 
fear and trembling for the next set of light verses from some 
well-known literary hand, which shall hold them up to ridicule, 
even to the endangering of their administration? Conceive 
Mr Asquith, for example, or Mr Balfour, surreptitiously pur- 

1 For his secret instructions on going to Russia, see Brit. Mus. Add.- 
MSS. 35479, f- 227s 



THE FIRST SELWYN CIRCLE 89 

chasing a copy of Mr 's new poem ; giving it an indignant 

reading in private ; buying off the poet, perhaps, with a 
diplomatic mission or a judgeship. Yet this is not so very 
different from what actually happened many times in the 
eighteenth century. Then the satirical verse was a most potent 
political weapon ; it settled the fate of ministries. The whole 
town read the latest squib ; shook its sides with laughter ; men 
nudged and winked when the object of the squib (who might 
be Lord of the Treasury or Secretary of State) walked into his 
club of an evening, horribly conscious that his friends had all 
a moment before been enjoying themselves at his expense. 
Sir Charles Williams' pen was often dipped in gall. Observe 
how he tormented William Pulteney, first Earl of Bath, with 
his " Ode to the Earl of Bath," " New Ode to the Earl of Bath," 
" A Newer Ode than the Last " (to the Earl of Bath), " Ballad " 
(to the Earl of Bath), "Lines" (to the Earl of Bath), and 
heaven knows how many more to the same unfortunate noble- 
man : all of which the nobleman probably read, or heard about 
from his dear friends. No wonder Sir Charles Williams was 
offered so many positions of less freedom and greater responsi- 
bility on the Continent. Obviously he was a student of Pope, 
with some of Pope's polish, and a good deal of his wit. His 
description of the two Charles's, Churchill and Stanhope, is 
quite in the Twickenham manner : 



" But with old age its vices came along, 
And in narration he's extremely long, 
Exact in circumstance and nice in dates 
On every subject he his tale relates. 
If you name one of Marlbro's ten campaigns 
He tells you its whole history for your pains : 
And Blenheim's field becomes by his reciting 
As long in telling as it was in fighting . . . 

. . . But see, another Charles's face 
Cuts short the General, and relieves his Grace. 
So when one crop-sick parson in a doze, 
Is reading morning service through his nose, 
Another, in the pulpit, straight appears 
Claiming the tired-out congregation's ears, 
And with a duller sermon ends their prayers. 



90 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

For this old Charles is full as dull as t'other, 
Baevius to Maevius was not more a brother ; 
From two defects his talk no joy affords, 
From want of matter, and from want of words." 

Williams could also write very good light verse, not of the 
satirical kind. A good specimen is his " Ballad in imitation 
of Martial, on Lady Ilchester asking Lord Ilchester how many 
kisses he would have." 

" Dear Betty, come give me sweet kisses, 

For sweeter no girl ever gave : 
But why in the midst of our blisses 
Do you ask me how many I'd have ? 

I'm not to be stinted in pleasure, 

Then prithee, dear Betty, be kind]; 
For as I love thee beyond measure, 

To numbers I'll not be confined. 

Count the bees that on Hybla are straying, 
Count the flowers that enamel the fields, 

Count the flocks that on Tempe are playing, 
Or the grains that each Sicily yields ; 

Count how many stars are in Heaven, 

Go reckon the sands on the shore ; 
And when so many kisses you've given, 

I still shall be asking for more. 

To a heart full of love let me hold thee, 

A heart that dear Betty is thine ; 
In my arms I'll forever enfold thee, 

And curl round thy neck like a vine. 

What joy can be greater than this is ? 

My life on thy lips shall be spent ; 
But those who can number their kisses 

Will always with few be content." 

Sir Charles Williams had no reputation as a writer of prose, 
perhaps because he wrote so little ; but his prose nevertheless 
had a certain distinction. " Conciseness (and I hope clearness) 
is what I pique myself upon," he says in one of his letters, 



THE FIRST SELWYN CIRCLE 91 

which were undoubtedly both concise and clear. He wrote 
with a Gallic lucidity of phrase not often to be found in the 
eighteenth century ; Eothen had the same quality in the nine- 
teenth. Williams' style, indeed, suggests no writer more than 
Kinglake, as anyone may discover who takes the trouble to 
read his correspondence with Henry Fox. But after all, he 
was an amateur in literature ; it is in another capacity that we 
have to consider him for a moment before dismissing him 
from these pages. In all probability George Selwyn never 
remembered a time when his cousin Charles was not also his 
friend. But the difference between them of eleven years made 
the relationship rather one of patron and pupil than of intimacy 
between equals. While George was yet at Eton, Charles was a 
fine gentleman in London ; and again, while George was pre- 
tending to study at Oxford, or dunning his father from Paris, 
Charles was entertaining the town with his squibs, and setting 
the mode for St James's Street. It is quite likely, indeed, that 
George Selwyn was first launched on the life of London by his 
cousin, who introduced him to the clubs, and to society, and to 
the half-society of those days also. We have seen how he 
wrote to Selwyn at Oxford, imploring him to enjoy himself, 
and what came of the advice. When Selwyn returned to town 
from Oxford Williams had gone abroad ; and as he remained 
abroad practically all the time from 1745 until his death in 
1759, Selwyn probably saw little of him. But at intervals they 
met in London, at the house in Cleveland Court, and at White's. 
Williams was gaiest of the gay he had an enormous stock of 
sheer animal spirits and he was accustomed to keep the table 
in a roar as he related, with a wealth of detail, entirely apocry- 
phal stories of his cousin George. We have this from a distin- 
guished authority, Dr John Warner, who, however, belongs to 
a much later period of George Selwyn's life, and has no business 
to come into the narrative at this point, except to be quoted 
as an authority. He relates how Sir Charles was once telling 
a large company a story about Selwyn, " with many strokes of 
rich humour received with great glee before his face, when a 
gentleman who sat next to the object of their mirth said to 
him in a low voice, ' It is strange, George, so intimate as we are, 
that I should never have heard of this story before.' ' Not at 
all strange,' he replied, in the same voice, ' for Sir Charles has 



92 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

just invented it, and knows that I will not by contradiction 
spoil the pleasure of the company he is so highly entertaining.' " 
Warner says he had this direct from Selwyn ; and indeed it 
has an air of verisimilitude ; it is characteristic of both men : 
Williams, the invincibly gay, Selwyn, the invincibly amiable, 
appreciative of good stories even when told against himself. 
Upon this Warner assigned to Williams a most important 
place in the first Selwyn circle. He says that he (with Lord 
Chesterfield) was the author of an enormous legend about 
Selwyn : the legend of his " fondness for corpses " and execu- 
tions. This contention will be examined in its proper place. 
Here it is sufficient to note that no one was more responsible 
for George Selwyn's bent towards the life of pleasure and of 
fashion than Sir Charles Hanbury Williams. 

At the close of Sir Charles' one published letter to Selwyn, 
he says : " Mr Walpole sits by me while I write : always think 
of him with affection, for he delights in you." Horace Walpole 
was by far the most distinguished of the Selwyn circle, and as 
yet he has been left entirely out of the picture. But Horace 
deserves, and shall have, a chapter to himself. 



CHAPTER VI 

STRAWBERRY HILL 

FORTUNATELY it is no part of our duty here to 
attempt an estimate of the character of Horace Wai- 
pole. That has already been done by more that one 
eminent hand. It has been done, for example, by Lord 
Macaulay ; and when Macaulay speaks, his words are what 
Carlyle called Alfred Tennyson's : " Decisions." Whether you 
agree with them or not, you are bound to give them a certain 
respectful consideration. Now, Macaulay on Horace Walpole 
is as amusing and as vigorous as Macaulay on anybody else ; 
but it is obviously breaking a butterfly upon the wheel, and 
the spectator can't entirely repress his sympathy for the un- 
fortunate butterfly. Nevertheless, Macaulay seems to have 
enjoyed the operation extremely. With what gusto does he 
launch his attack upon the Letter-Writer ! How he trounces 
him in that commanding English of his ! How grimly and 
pertinaciously does he insist upon exploring every corner of 
the Letter- Writer's not very extensive soul ! " A gentleman- 
usher at heart," says he contemptuously, and the judgment 
will go echoing and re-echoing down the ages as long as print 
and paper endure. And of course Walpole was a snob : a 
mean admirer of mean things. But then he was a good deal 
more than this, only that Macaulay intended to give him a 
trouncing, and the trouncing style does not lend itself to 
accurate portraiture. In fact, Macaulay ought never to have 
written upon Walpole at all, just as he ought never to have 
troubled himself about Mr Robert Montgomery. His hand 
was too heavy for such work. Horace Walpole was an odd, 
affected, amusing creature (although he would have been 
shocked at the application of any of these adjectives to himself), 
and odd, amusing creatures did not appeal to Macaulay. Like 
the puppet-master in "Tom Jones," he is not entertained by 
the antics of Mr Punch. He points out firmly, and with un- 
answerable logic, that the gentleman is deformed, and speaks 

93 



94 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

in a high-pitched, unnatural voice, and has the manners and 
the morals of a bargee. All of which is true : only that most 
of us are content to look on at the show, and laugh when 
Mr Punch thwacks his wife, and drop our pennies in the hat 
when it comes round. Horace Walpole is not a Punchinello, 
to be sure ; but in his pleasant, high-bred way he is a very 
amusing play-actor. When he occupies the stage himself he 
is never stupid or dull, and you can't deny his cleverness when 
he is merely pulling the wires for the other little puppets. Nor 
does it really matter a pin to us now what Walpole's character 
was as a man. It is enough to remember his fine achievement 
in the sphere of literature as the greatest of English letter- 
writers : greatest, whether we look at the body of his work or 
at its quality. This judgment could be sustained at length, 
if this were the place to sustain it, even though it be admitted 
that none of us can put our hand upon our heart and admit 
honestly that Walpole is our favourite letter-writer. But this 
is not the place to sustain it. We have to consider Walpole 
in quite another capacity from that in which he is best known to 
posterity. 

Horace Walpole occupies a unique position in the circle of 
George Selwyn's friends. He is the Boswell of the party, and 
chronicles the words of his Johnson with almost the assiduity 
of the other Boswell. The analogy may indeed be pushed for 
a considerable distance. Johnson, as we all know, survives in 
the pages of his biographer, rather than in those of his Diction- 
ary or of his " Lives of the Poets " ; and Sel wyn survives, not only 
as a wit, but also as a man, almost exclusively in the letters of 
Horace Walpole. The analogy must not of course be pushed 
too far. Boswell revered his master and carefully preserved 
his lightest word as though it were the word of an oracle. 
Walpole was under no such obsession with regard to Selwyn. 
But Selwyn was a sayer of good things ; he uttered just that 
kind of light and airy speech which might sparkle afterwards 
in a chatty letter to a friend. Walpole noted the words as 
they came ; jotted them down on the back of an envelope (or 
on his shirt cuff, perhaps) ; and elaborated them at leisure in a 
letter to General Conway or ^Mr George Montagu. How much 
of the result was Selwyn's and how much Walpole's it would 
perhaps be idle to inquire. It may well have been that when 



STRAWBERRY HILL 95 

Walpole said, as he so often did, that he would conclude his 
letter with a bon-mot of George Selwyn's, he meant that he 
would conclude with a bon-mot of Horace Walpole's. Or again, 
it may have been that Selwyn supplied the idea, and that 
Walpole gave it literary form. The result is not important 
enough to justify a prolonged investigation of the point. It is 
sufficient to observe that if Selwyn was the Receiver-General 
of waif and stray jokes, Walpole was their self-appointed 
Registrar-General. 

Walpole, as we have seen, was a friend not only of George 
Selwyn, but of the whole Selwyn family. The friendship came 
about most naturally, since both the Selwyns and the Walpoles 
were Court people, and both were in the same political interest. 
Colonel John Selwyn was attached officially to George II. for 
many years, and Sir Robert Walpole was that monarch's 
principal minister. Furthermore, there was a connection by 
marriage between the two families. Sir Robert Walpole's 
sister had married Charles, second Viscount Townshend, and 
their son Thomas, Horace Walpole's cousin, had married Colonel 
John Selwyn's daughter Albinia. There was no doubt, there- 
fore, a good deal of commerce between the Selwyns and the 
Walpoles, between the house in Cleveland Court and the 
house in Chelsea, when George Selwyn and Horace Walpole 
were boys. But the friendship of these two really began in 
the seventeen-forties, when both were young men upon the 
town. The Eton days were over ; so was Walpole's Grand 
Tour with the poet Gray ; and Horace and George were seeing 
life from the club window of White's. The references to Selwyn 
in the Walpole correspondence begin very early, and continue 
until very late. One of the earliest occurs in 1/46, when we 
are told that " The Prince of Hesse had a most ridiculous 
tumble t'other night at the opera ; they had not pegged up 
his box tight after the ridotto, and down he came on all four ; 
George Selwyn says he carried it off with an unembarrassed 
countenance." Already Walpole was beginning sedulously to 
chronicle the witticisms of his friend. Many a night these two 
spent at White's, though one can never conceive that Walpole 
had any real interest in the gaming-table. No doubt he looked 
on at the play, and perhaps took a hand at picquet, as a 
gentleman should, and then came home to his house in Arling- 



96 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

ton Street, quite sober, and at a respectable hour. Once he 
found a housebreaker awaiting him : but that is a story which 
should be told in Walpole's own words, and should be entitled : 
" The Housebreaker, The Letter- writer, and The Wit." " Last 
Sunday night," says Walpole in a letter to Montagu, " being as 
wet a night as you shall see in a summer's day, about half an 
hour after twelve, I was just come home from White's, and 
undressing to step into bed, I heard Harry, who you know lies 
forwards, roar out 'Stop Thief! 'and run down stairs. I ran 
after him. Don't be frightened ; I have not lost one enamel, 
nor bronze, nor have been shot through the head again. A 
gentlewoman, who lives at governor Pitt's next door but one 
to me, and where Mr Huntley used to live, was going to bed 
too, and heard people breaking into Mr Freeman's house, who, 
like some acquaintance of mine in Albemarle Street, goes out 
of town, locks up his doors, and leaves the community to watch 
his furniture. N.B. It was broken open two years ago, and 
I and all the chairmen vow they shall steal his house away 
another time, before we will trouble our heads about it. Well, 
madam called out ' Watch ! ' ; two men, who were sentinels, 
ran away, and Harry's voice after them. Dawn came, and 
with a posse of chairmen and watchmen found the third fellow 
in the area of Mr Freeman's house. Mayhap you have seen 
all this in the papers, little thinking who commanded the 
detachment. Harry fetched a blunderbuss to invite the thief 
up. One of the chairmen, who was drunk, cried ' Give me the 
blunderbuss. Pll shoot him ! ' But as the General's head was 
a little cooler, he prevented military execution, and took the 
prisoner without bloodshed, intending to make his triumphal 
entry into the metropolis of Twickenham with his captive tied 
to the wheels of his post-chaise. I find my style rises so much 
with the recollection of my victory, that I don't know how to 
descend so tell you that the enemy was a carpenter and had a 
leather apron on. The next step was to share my glory with 
my friends. I despatched a courier to White's for George 
Selwyn, who, you know, loves nothing upon earth so much 
as a criminal, except the execution of him. It happened very 
luckily that the drawer, who received my message, has very 
lately been robbed himself, and had the wound fresh in his 
memory. He stalked up to the Club-room, stopped short, and 



STRAWBERRY HILL 97 

with a hollow trembling voice said, ' Mr Selwyn ! Mr Walpotis 
compliments to you, and he has got a housebreaker for you /' A 
squadron immediately came to re-inforce me, and having 
summoned Mereland with the keys of the fortress, we marched 
into the house to search for more of the gang. Colonel Sea- 
bright with his sword drawn went first, and then I, exactly 
the picture of Robinson Crusoe, with a candle and lanthorn in 
my hand, a carbine upon my shoulder, my hair wet and about 
my ears, and in a linen night-gown and slippers. We found 
the kitchen shutters forced, but not finished ; and in the area 
a tremendous bag of tools, a hammer large enough for the 
hand of a Jael, and six chisels ! All which opima spolia as 
there was no temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in the neighbour- 
hood, I was reduced to offer on the altar of Sir Thomas 
Clarges." As a little picture of an episode in London life in 
the eighteenth century this is difficult to beat. You can see 
the unfortunate carpenter in the area, General Walpole shiver- 
ing in his linen night-gown and slippers, the crowd of drunken 
chairmen, the arrival of the White's contingent headed by 
George Selwyn, while the rain pours pitilessly down. Not 
often was the Letter- Writer in the midst of such an alarm. 

But it was when Walpole established himself at Strawberry 
Hill that he and Selwyn passed most time in each other's 
company. We first hear of Strawberry in June 1747. " You 
perceive by my date," writes Walpole to his cousin Conway, 
" that I am got into a new camp, and have left my tub at 
Windsor. It is a little plaything-house that I got out of Mrs 
Chenevix's Shop, and is the prettiest bauble you ever saw " ; 
and then he goes on to describe his new toy. It was a toy 
of which Walpole never tired. He bought it a " Villakin," a 
tiny country house with stuffy, comfortless, rooms ; he left it a 
Gothic castle, filled with books, pictures, prints, stained glass, 
curios, armour : impressed, in short, both inside and out, with 
the odd taste of the owner. Walpole was very happy at 
Strawberry, fiddling about amongst his printing-presses and 
his stained glass. It was only a two-hours' drive from town, 
so that he could spend the morning in Arlington Street and 
dine at Twickenham in the afternoon. During nearly fifty 
years he took that drive many, many, times a year. What 
more natural than that he should desire pleasant companion- 



98 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

ship in his " light-bodied chariot " to beguile the journey ? 
This, no doubt, was the origin of the out-of-town party, to which 
reference has already been made. Walpole knew where and 
how to pick his men. White's was the place : there were no 
dull-dogs at White's. And where could you find three more 
cheerful fellows than George Selwyn, Gilly Williams, and 
Dick Edgecumbe ? Remember Walpole's requirements. He 
would have no mere crack-pated man of fashion. What he 
wanted was agreeable company ; people who could talk well 
and brightly ; who knew something about life, and (perhaps) 
literature, and (certainly) art. Now all three, Selwyn, Williams, 
and Edgecumbe, fulfilled these requirements. They were 
witty ; they moved in Walpole's circle ; Edgecumbe was an 
artist of some ability ; and Gilly Williams decidedly knew 
good literature and good art from bad. We must suppose that 
these four often drove out together from St James's Street to 
Twickenham, and dined there in bachelor state. Sometimes 
they returned the same night, waking the echoes of Hammer- 
smith and Kensington with the sound of their chariot wheels ; 
sometimes they spent a few days at Strawberry before town 
saw them again. Nearer our own day Mr Peter Cunningham 
has taken his seat in the chariot, and pointed out for us the 
interesting houses they passed on their way. We need not 
follow him, except to note how few are the changes a hundred 
and fifty years have made in the landmarks. Gone is the 
" Hercules' Pillars " at Hyde Park Corner, where Squire Western 
stayed ; gone also is Q.'s house in Piccadilly ; but observe how 
many of the great houses still remain : Kingston House, 
Kensington Palace, Holland House, Gunnersbury, Osterley, 
Sion House, Pope's Villa, Radnor House, and Strawberry itself. 
It is pleasant enough to think that time has dealt so leniently 
with these famous places. 

When our four gentlemen arrived at Twickenham, they 
(having dined, of course) formed themselves into a " committee 
of taste," and fell to discussing the latest improvements in 
Strawberry. Or the " chief herald painter," Edgecumbe, would 
make a sketch, while Selwyn criticised the out-of-town "con- 
versation piece "by Sir Joshua, which hung over the chimney 
in the great parlour. Just how often these out-of-town 
parties were held we do not know ; but for some years they 



STRAWBERRY HILL 



99 



were certainly fixtures for Easter and Christmas. " In a day or 
two I expect Mr Williams, George Selwyn, and Dick Edge- 
cumbe," writes Walpole on 24th December 1754; and again in 
1761, after Dick's death, he misses "poor Edgecumbe, who was 
constantly of the Christmas and Easter parties." Lord Walde- 
grave took Edgecumbe's place, and the parties continued until 
Waldegrave's death in 1763. But no doubt the informal 
gatherings at Strawberry were much more frequent. Here 
is a dateless scrap rescued from one of the famous boxes, and 
addressed to George Selwyn : " Dear Sir, do send me the 
second volume of Rousseau. Take care, for a few leaves of 
this 2nd are loose. I am this instant going to Strawberry Hill ; 
I don't know how to ask you to go and dine there, but if you 
should like it, I will bring you back as soon as you have dined. 
H. Walpole." Besides the " Out-of-Towns," and these occasional 
informal dinners, there were great and splendid entertainments, 
from which Selwyn was seldom absent. Thus, on a June 
evening in 1764, the Abbot of Strawberry writes to his friend 
Montagu : " Strawberry, whose glories perhaps verge toward 
their setting, has been more sumptuous to-day than ordinary, 
and banquetted their representative Majesties of France and 
Spain. I had M. and Madame de Guerchy . . . Lord March, 
George Selwyn, Mrs Ann Pitt, and my niece Waldegrave. The 
refectory never was so crowded ; nor have any foreigners been 
here before that comprehended Strawberry. Indeed, everything 
succeeded to a hair. A violent shower in the morning laid the 
dust, brightened the green, refreshed the roses, pinks, orange 
flowers, and the blossoms with which the acacias are covered. 
A rich storm of thunder and lightning gave a dignity to the 
heavens ; and the sun appeared enough to illuminate the land- 
scape, without basking himself over it at his length. During 
dinner there were French horns and clarionettes in the cloister ; 
and after dinner I treated them with an English, and to them 
a very new, collation, a syllabub milked under the cows that 
were brought to the brow of the terrace. Thence, they went to 
the printing-house, and saw a new fashionable French song 
printed. They drank tea in the gallery, and at eight went 
away to Vauxhall." The Abbot adds that the company seemed 
quite pleased with the place and the day, as well they might, 
for " all was handsomely done," and the Abbot spared not the 



100 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

treasury of his abbey. Among the curios which may have 
interested them were : " a holy-water-pot of earthen-ware, given 
by Mr G. A. Selwyn," which stood by the door of the chapel ; 
a piece of painted glass in the little parlour, "the arms of 
Ayliffe, impaling Clifford of Frampton," also given by Mr 
Selwyn ; and the original sketch for the arms of White's, in the 
green closet. 

So much for Selwyn's visits to Strawberry. When he was 

in the country or abroad Walpole sent him an occasional letter ; 

but, for some reason or other, this correspondence is not very 

distinguished : it is not characteristic of the writer. Thus, in 

1759, Walpole sends him an account of the battle of Minden : 

" All I know you shall know, though I dare to say, not a jot 

more than you know already. Just as the battle turned, Prince 

Ferdinand sent Mr Ligonier to order Lord George to bring 

up all the cavalry. That message was scarce delivered before 

Fitzroy came to order only the British Cavalry. Lord George 

said that must be a mistake, and that he would go and ask 

Prince Ferdinand what he really would have. The Horses 

were not carried up ; Lord George was coldly received after the 

battle, Lord Granby warmly ; they all dined together, and next 

day came out the famous order of thanks. Lord George was 

enraged, sent over for leave to resign and to return, has leave : 

has written an explanatory letter to the Duke of Richmond 

which I have not seen, and is not come that I know." This is 

interesting only as a contemporary account of an incident 

which Lord George Sackville never got over until the day of 

his death. It is not Horatian. The same day or thereabouts 

he scribbles a note slightly more characteristic : " Yesterday, 

at past three, Lord Holderness received a mysterious letter; 

I don't know from whence ; not a word of it was told ; upon 

which the stocks took it into their head that the King of Prussia 

was killed, and in their panic tumbled down a hundred pair of 

stairs. Betty [the St James's Street fruiterer] says the Germans 

are in tears ; my Lady Townshend has been with Hawkins 

[a surgeon] to know if it is possible for the King of Prussia to 

live after his head is shot off." This was in 1759. The next 

letters from Walpole to Selwyn are dated 1765-1766, and they 

are written from Paris. This was a journey which Walpole had 

been meditating for quite a long time. " Horry Walpole has 



STRAWBERRY HILL 



101 



now postponed his journey till May," writes Gilly Williams to 
Selwyn in March 1765. " He procrastinates on this side of the 
water as much as March on the other. To tell you the truth, 
as I believe he has no great cordiality for his excellency [Lord 
Hertford], he is not very impatient to see him. How do you 
think he has employed that leisure which his political frenzy 
has allowed of? In writing a novel, entitled ' The Castle of 
Otranto,' and such a novel that no boarding-school Miss of 
thirteen could get half through without yawning. It consists 
of ghosts and enchantments ; pictures walk out of their frames, 
and are good company for half an hour together ; helmets drop 
from the moon, and cover half a family. He says it was a 
dream, and I fancy one when he had some feverish disposition 
in him." 

It was not until September that Walpole started for Paris. 
In the meantime George Selwyn had come home from a pro- 
longed stay in that city, and it is quite likely that it was he who 
finally made up Walpole's mind for him. Certainly he gave 
him an introduction to Madame du Deffand, for which Walpole 
was grateful. " I was in your debt before," he writes to Selwyn 
in December, " for making over Madame du Deffand to me, who 
is delicious : that is, as often as I can get her fifty years back : 
but she is as eager about what happens every day as I am about 
the last century. I sup there twice a week and bear all her dull 
company for the sake of the Regent. I might go to her much 
oftener, but my curiosity to see everybody and everything is 
insatiable, especially having lost so much time by my confine- 
ment. I have been very ill a long time, and mending much 
longer, for every two days undo the ground I get. The fogs 
anoV damps which, with your leave, are greater and more 
frequent than in England, kill me. However, it is the country 
in the world to be sick and grow old in. The first step towards 
being in the fashion is to lose an eye or a tooth. Young people, 
I conclude there are, but where they exist I don't guess : not 
that I complain ; it is charming to totter into vogue." He 
mixes with the high society of the capital, the Queen, Madame 
Geoffrin, the Duchess d'Aiguillen, Madame de Rochfort, and is 
"very well amused." He visits the Hotel de Carnavalet, 
Madame de Se" vign6's house, which " sends its blessings to you. 
I never pass it without saying an Ave Maria de Rabutin Chantal, 



102 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

gratia plena." He remembers the out-of-town, and says : 
" When we three meet again in Strawberry, I think I shall be 
able at least to divert Mr Williams ; but till then you must 
keep my council. Madame du Deffand says I have le fou 
mocqueur, and I have not hurt myself a little by laughing at 
Whisk and Richardson, though I have steered clear of the 
chapter of Mr Hume ; the only Trinity now in fashion here." 
In January he writes again to Selwyn, a letter full of tittle- 
tattle about mutual friends in Paris. " I hope some of the 
English," he concludes, " who are here in plenty, will carry you 
over the new head-dress of the men, which is exactly in a sugar- 
loaf shape, and very little lower. As the mourning (for the 
Dauphin) checks their fancy in cloaths, it has broken out on 
the tops of their heads. Adieu ! my dear sir, I can talk to you 
of nothing English, for I hear nothing but of your politics, 
about which I do not care a straw." Selwyn probably kept 
Walpole supplied with all the London gossip ; for in March the 
latter writes : " I laughed till I cried at your description of Mr 
Pitt, hopping and crawling and dressing : but I took care not 
to publish it here, where they believe he is more alert and has 
longer talons than the Beast of the Gevaudan ... in short they 
consider him as the Chinese do the East India Company whom 
they call Mr Company. You see how true the saying is that 
nobody is a hero in the eyes of his own valet de chambre. In 
England you are all laughing at the crutch of a man who keeps 
the rest of Europe in awe. It is now and then such a Clytus 
as you, that prevents a poor drunken mortal from passing for 
a God." " I am really coming," he adds, " though I divert 
myself well enough, and have no sort of thirst after your 
politics. But lilac-tide approaches, and I long as much to see 
a bit of green as a housemaid does that sticks a piece of mint in 
a phial : I don't write to Mr Williams because writing to you is 
the same thing ; and I forget him no more than I hope he 
forgets me." Soon after this Walpole was back in his beloved 
Strawberry. But he had acquired the fatal habit of going to 
Paris ; for in December of the same year Gilly Williams writes 
to Selwyn (himself in France) : " Horry Walpole is lost in loo 
and politics. It is this day Conway and the next Chatham, and 
he is behind them both alternately at the Opera. I thought he 
would have been more regular in his correspondence with you, 



STRAWBERRY HILL 103 

as he intends passing the next spring in that very round of 
foreign ecstasy which you so rapturously describe." It was 
August, however, before Walpole reached Paris. He left it in 
October, just as Selwyn arrived. " Thank you," writes Walpole 
from Arlington Street in the middle of that month, " I am as well 
as anybody can be that has been drowned from above and below, 
that was sick to death for eight hours, with the additional 
mortification of finding himself not invulnerable." But notwith- 
standing the horrors of the Channel passage, Walpole could 
not break himself off the Paris-going habit. Every year or two 
found him there, fluttering round the old blind Madame du 
Deffand. He did not always report progress to Selwyn ; we 
have, indeed, no more Parisian letters for some considerable 
time. In 1771, however, he sends him from Strawberry Hill 
a theatrical bill, advertising a dramatic entertainment which 
had recently been produced at the Comedie Italienne: 

RATON ET ROSETTE 

PARODIE REMISE Au THEATRE 

AVEC SES AGREMENS . . . 

Now it happened that " Raton " was the name of Selwyn's 
favourite dog and " Rosette " the name of Walpole's. " Who 
would have thought," says Horace, " that Raton and Rosette 
would be talked of for one another? But neither innocence nor 
age are secure ! People say that there never is a smoke without 
some fire ; here is a striking proof to the contrary. Only think 
of the poor dear souls having a comic opera made upon their 
lives ! Rosette is so shocked that she insists upon Raton's 
posting to Paris and breaking the poet's bones ; saufd les ronger 
apres. If he is &preux chevalier he will vindicate her character, 
cCune ntaniere eclatante" A pretty little piece of correspondence 
this between two unromantic, middle-aged bachelors. 

Up to this point we have traced the history of the Walpole- 
Selwyn friendship almost entirely from the letters of Walpole. 
But we now have the help of Selwyn's own letters to Lord 
Carlisle, which from 1770 or thereabouts contain many references 
to his friend " Horry." We have seen in what light Walpole 
regarded Selwyn ; we are now to see what Selwyn thought of 
Walpole. Thus in February 1768 he writes: "Mr Walpole's 



104 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

book ( ' Historic Doubts on Richard the Third ' ) came out 
yesterday, but I got it from him on Saturday, and Lord 
Molyneux carried it for me that morning to Sir John Lambert 
to be forwarded to your lordship immediately. I'm confident 
that it will entertain you very much, and, what is more ex- 
traordinary, convince you ; because I have that good opinion of 
your understanding as not to think that ages and numbers can 
sanctify falsehood, and that such is your love of truth as to be 
glad to find it, although at the expense of quitting the prejudice 
of your whole precedent life. 1 will not forestall your judgment 
by saying anything more of this book, but only wish it may 
afford as much entertainment as it has me. This historic 
doubter dined with me yesterday. . . . Horry seemed mightily 
pleased with the success which his new book has met with ; 
nobody cavils at anything, but here and there an expression ; 
his hypothesis is approved of from the most reasonable con- 
jectures and the most indisputable authorities." Selwyn, it is 
interesting to note, was convinced by Walpole's argument, 
which convinced neither Voltaire, nor Hume, nor Gray, nor 
the Dean of Exeter, nor even the doubter himself, who abandoned 
the argument, and purged himself of his heretical views on 
Richard III., many years after this. 

In 1772 Walpole visited Castle Howard, which charmed 
him. " Oh, George," he writes to Selwyn, " were I such a 
poet as your friend [Carlisle] and possessed such a Parnassus, 
I would instantly scratch my name out of the buttery-book 
of Almack's ; be admitted ad eundem among the Muses ; and 
save every doit to lay out in making a Helicon, and finishing 
my palace." Two years afterwards he travelled down to the 
west of England, and paid his second visit to Matson. 
" Horry Walpole has a project of coming into this part of 
the world the end of this week," wrote Selwyn, "and if he 
does, of coming to see me on Saturday. I shall be glad to 
converse with anybody whose ideas are more intelligible than 
those of the persons I am now with." This was in reference 
to Walpole's note to Selwyn : " I think I shall be with you 
on Saturday . . . but it is so formidable to me to begin a 
journey, and I have changed my mind so often about this, 
though I like it so much, that I beg you will not be disappointed 
if you do not see me. If I were juvenile enough to set off 



STRAWBERRY HILL 105 

at midnight and travel all night, you would be sure of me ; 
but folks who do anything eagerly neither know nor care 
what they do. Sedate me, who deliberate, at least do not 
determine but on preference ; therefore, if I surmount diffi- 
culties, I shall at least have some merit with you ; and if 
I do not, you must allow that the difficulties were prodigious, 
when they surmounted so much inclination. In this wavering 
situation I wish you good-night, and hope I shall make to- 
morrow as resolute as Hercules on Mr Bruce; but pray 
do not give me live beef for supper." As it happened, the 
difficulties, not the inclination, were " surmounted," and Walpole 
reached Matson on the Friday, one day before time. "At 
night I heard that Mr Walpole was here," says Selwyn ; " I was 
then at Gloucester, so I hurried home, and have now some 
person to converse with who speaks my own language." Those 
who wish to know how the Letter-Writer spent his week- 
end at Matson must read his letter to the Rev. Mr Cole, 
dated I5th August 1774: "You will not dislike my date 
[Matson]," he tells the antiquary. " I am in the very mansion 
where King Charles and his two eldest sons lay during the 
siege. . . . The present master has done due honour to the 
Royal residence, and erected a good marble bust of the royal 
martyr in a little gallery. In a window is a shield of painted 
glass, with that King's and Queen's arms which I gave him. 
So you see I am not a rebel, when Alma mater antiquity 
stands godmother." Walpole left Matson on the Monday, 
Selwyn having provided "very fine weather for him, and 
Gothic to his heart's content." George was in the thick of 
an election fight; and Horry looked on at his friend's can- 
vassing and speech-making, and reflected on his own wisdom, 
and thought himself " the greatest philosopher in the world " 
because he had given up such a childish pursuit as politics, 
and had taken to serious things like painted glass and the 
Gothic. 

At this time Walpole was beginning to feel the burden 
of years and of gout. He was only sixty, but men aged 
quickly in those days. Once he writes to Selwyn that he 
can't stir out of his bed-chamber, " which is up two flights of 
stairs . . . but I hope that will not hinder you from calling 
on me, whenever you have nothing better to do." Despite 



106 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

gout and years, however, he managed to pay one more visit 
to Paris (in 1775) to bid farewell to Madame du Deffand. He 
sends a chatty letter to Selwyn, promising him " some royal 
prints. New fashions in dress, furniture, baubles, I have seen 
none. Feathers are waning, and almost confined to filles and 
foreigners." He is back in October, " as peevish as a monkey," 
Selwyn tells Carlisle. They meet occasionally at dinner, and 
compare their symptoms and their " distresses," as peevish old 
bachelors do. Or there are invitations to Strawberry for 
Selwyn and his child friends : " Lady Caroline Howard, la 
Signorina Fagnani, 1 and Miss in the lodging, or any other 
three ladies are very welcome to see Strawberry Hill any 
morning this week : but Mr Selwyn is not, as he has not made 
a visit there in form to the Senechal of the Castle since he 
resided at Richmond." Then follows in a feigned handwriting : 
" Your Honour, my master is going to town this evening, and 
will not be back till Thursday. From your Honour's most 
obedient to command, Margaret Young. Pray be secret." 
Once Walpole goes to the play ; which rouses the sarcasm 
of the other old bachelor. " Mr Walpole " says he, " more 
defait, more perclus de ses membres, than I ever yet saw any 
poor wretch, is come to-night to the play-house, to see the 
Tragedy of Narbonne. The gout may put what shackles 
it likes on some people : on les rompt, et la vanite F emporte. He 
seems as able to act a part in the drama as to assist at the 
performance of it." It was very annoying to see an old fellow 
like Horry hobbling off to the theatre, when George (very 
asthmatic and shaky) had to stay at home. It was much 
more appropriate when, on another evening, Walpole came 
in when Selwyn and a young friend were "playing together 
at whist with two dummies," and remained till near eleven. 

The years were getting on, and there is not much more to 
chronicle in the lifelong friendship of these two men. Imagine 
Selwyn at Richmond, feeble and querulous ; and Walpole 
at Strawberry, more and more of the abbot and the recluse. 
It must have been about this time that Selwyn described 
Strawberry Hill to the third Lord Holland as a "catacomb, 
or at best a museum, rather than a habitation," and the master 
of it as " one of the most carefully finished miniatures and 

1 See Chapter XI. 



STRAWBERRY HILL 107 

best-preserved mummies in the whole collection." They visit 
each other now and then, and talk of Paris, and of the fate 
of mutual old friends there. The Bastille has fallen ; the 
guillotine has been running patrician blood ; we are rilled 
with abhorrence at these crimes. Is not Gre"nier's Hotel "more 
like a hospital than anything else? Such rooms, such a 
crowd of miserable wretches, and Mme. de Boufflers among 
them . . . altogether a piteous sight," says Selwyn. But why 
linger on these things ? It is more pleasant to go down the river 
to Isleworth and pluck roses in the Duke's garden : or to go 
up the river to Twitn'am and take tea with Horry. We 
shall not have many more opportunities. There comes a day 
when Walpole writes to Miss Berry that he is on the point 
of losing, or has already lost, his oldest acquaintance and friend, 
George Selwyn. " These misfortunes, though they can be 
so but for a short time, are very sensible to the old ; but him I 
really loved, not only for his infinite wit, but for a thousand 
good qualities." A few days afterwards : " I have had another 
grievous memento, the death of poor Selwyn. . . . From eight 
years old I had known him intimately without a cloud between 
us, few knew him so well, and consequently few knew so well 
the goodness of his heart and nature." And again : " Poor 
Selwyn is gone to my sorrow, and no wonder Ucalegon feels 
it." 

No wonder, indeed. But Ucalegon, gouty and old, must 
not dwell upon it ; agitation must be avoided at his age. Here 
is a good story about Caroline Vernon, fille d'honneur, who 
lost 200 at faro t'other night. And don't you notice that 
the evenings are lengthening, and the spring coming on ? 
Soon it will be lilac-tide again, when we may leave Berkeley 
Square for Strawberry, and wander in the pleasant -river garden, 
companioned by the ghosts of those who were once our 
friends. 



CHAPTER VII 

"MR SELWYN THE WIT" 

" "TT DO not comprehend how I have the courage to scribble 
away at such a rate to ' Mr Selwyn the Wit ' : but 
you see the effect of flattery." So wrote that charm- 
ing woman, Lady Sarah Bunbury, in a certain " amazing long 
letter "which she sent to Selwyn from Spa. Just exactly when 
George Selwyn began to be known as " the Wit " is doubtful : 
probably when Walpole's letters began to circulate ; and that, 
of course, was when both the Letter-Writer and the Wit were 
young men. But the epithet, once given, could not be shaken 
off, and Selwyn kept it for the rest of his life. It was a burden 
which he bore with considerable equanimity. " I could never 
get an admirer of my erudition but Wraxall," he wrote, " of my 
wit I have had indeed plenty, that is, all the fools in Town, 
who never had any idea of what wit is, and to which I am sure 
I stand [as] clear of making any pretensions as anybody ever 
did. But if I had, would it be wonderful? When Lady 
Tweedale protests, I cannot speak but it is a bon-mot" It is 
perhaps useless to inquire whether Selwyn actually did or 
did not say all the good things which were attributed to him in 
his lifetime. Probably he did not : no man does say quite 
all the good things that are attributed to him. But when 
you give a man the name of wit, he at once becomes a con- 
venient peg upon which to hang (if you can be said to hang 
a joke) all the witticisms which fly about in an intellectually 
healthy state of society. In our own day, for example, not a 
bon-mot was uttered between New York and San Francisco of 
which the author was not either Mark Twain or Mr Chauncey 
Depew. It was hopeless for these eminent men to deny 
paternity : nobody believed them. This is a good story : 
therefore it is Mark Twain's ; that is a brilliant epigram : 
therefore it is Mr Depew's. So argued the public ; and in time 
the eminent men recognised the uselessness of denials, and 
perhaps even began to believe that they had after all said these 

108 




GEORGE SELWYN 

FROM THE PASTEL BY H. D. HAMILTON 



MR SELWYN THE WIT 109 

brilliant things, and had forgotten them. It appears that 
" Mr Selwyn the Wit " became, even in his lifetime, a super- 
stition : the young fellows at White's would point him out as 
one who, in their fathers' day, was the most famous wit in town. 
But that is the common fate of wits. Gradually, but surely, 
they are found out. People cease to laugh with them, and begin 
to laugh at them. Something like this was Selwyn's fate. But 
let us be tender with this reputation of Selwyn's, and continue to 
think of him as the Wit, if only because we must soon shatter his 
more gruesome reputation as the lover of corpses. Brutal indeed 
would be the historian who would deprive a man of two reputa- 
tions in one volume. George Selwyn must continue his journey 
to posterity as a wit ; for assuredly he can proceed as nothing else. 
But, first, what is a " wit " ? To answer this question we need 
hardly enter upon a lengthy discussion as to the difference 
between wit and humour. That is an old and trite discussion ; 
and in the end, people do not agree about it. But most of us 
perfectly well know the difference between the two. Humour 
is, of course, incomparably the higher thing. The humorist 
loves as well as laughs ; sees not only the temporary incon- 
gruity, but the permanent congruity which includes that ; his 
is the only sane point of view. When the last word upon the 
subject is said, no man is entirely sane who lacks a sense of 
humour. The wit is in a different category. He need not 
necessarily have a heart : he is better without one. What he must 
have is a certain mental agility, the capacity to see likenesses and 
differences on the spur of the moment : or even, as Mr Birrell 
would say, " on the spur of an hour and a half." If his mind be 
well stored this capacity will be increased, so that a man will not 
speak loosely or thoughtlessly but the wit shall on the instant 
confound him with a line from Tully or from Hyde. Thus when 
George Selwyn and Lord Weymouth had a dispute as to whether 
"central" or "centrical" were correct, and Selwyn argued for 
"central," somebody told him that Charles Fox had decided 
against him. " Then," said Selwyn, " carry him my compliments 
with the following authority from the ' Rape of the Lock ' : 
"'Umbriel, a dusky, melancholy sprite, 
As ever sullied the fair face of light, 
Down to the central earth, his proper scene 
Repaired to search the gloomy cave of spleen.'" 



110 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

This is an excellent example of how reading lends wit its 
aid. Even better is Swift's quotation when a lady in a crowded 
drawing-room swept down and broke a fine fiddle with the 
fringe of her gown : 

" Mantua vae miserae nimium vicina Cremonae ! " 

As it happens, we have George Selwyn's own opinion upon 
wit and humour. " Charles [Fox]," says he to Carlisle, " aims 
sometimes at humour ; he has not an atom of it, or rather, it 
is wit, which is better, but that is not his talent either, and they 
are indeed but despicable ones in my mind, et de tons les dons 
de la nature celui qui est le plus dangereux et le moins utile" 
This is a very curious and interesting passage, for two reasons : 
first, because Selwyn was wrong about Fox, who had humour 
rather than wit : his nature was the large nature of the humor- 
ist ; secondly, because we have here Selwyn's considered opinion 
that wit is better than humour, but that both are despicable 
and dangerous talents. In those days wit was indeed more 
highly esteemed than humour : wit was a gentlemanly thing ; 
humour smacked of the vulgar. But it is questionable whether 
Selwyn had any clear idea of the distinction between the two. 
He himself was a wit ; but occasionally very occasionally he 
lapsed into humour. Thus he writes to Carlisle: "The late 
Lord Holland's servants, preserving their friendship for my 
thief whom I dismissed, were so good, when their Lord died, 
to send for him to sit up with the corpse, as the only piece of 
preferment then vacant in the family. But they afterwards 
promoted him to be outrider to the hearse. Alice told me of 
it, and said it was a little comfort and relief to the poor man 
for the present ; and Mr More the attorney to whom I men- 
tioned it, said that they intended to throw him into the same 
thing that was the phrase when Lady Holland died. I beg 
you to reflect on these circumstances they are dignes de 
Moliere et Le Sage." Of Le Sage, perhaps : but Moliere ? 
Cannot the humorist claim this, rather than the wit? Or 
stay : does Mr Meredith's " Comic Spirit " make good his claim ? 
Perhaps wit, comedy, and humour, all have their share in 
Selwyn's story. To wit rightly belongs the " piece of prefer- 
ment " ; comedy and humour may contend for the rest. . . . 
But we are slipping into a discussion which we wished to avoid. 
What we want to find is the eighteenth-century connotation of 



MR SELWYN THE WIT 111 

the term " wit " as applied to a person. Definitions of wit and 
humour will not help us much, because the eighteenth-century 
wit might have either of these qualities, or neither, or both. It 
is of more importance to look at the persons who bore the title, 
and see why they had it, and what they did with it. 

It should be noticed first that the wits of Queen Anne's and 
early Georgian times were practically all men of letters. Every- 
body knows the names of Pope and Swift, Gay and Prior, 
Addison and Steele, Budgell and Tickell. These men were all 
" wits " in the language of the time ; yet how different were 
their qualities ! Pope, wounding he cared not whom with his 
poisoned rapier ; Swift, terrible in his hatred and scorn ; Gay 
and Prior, bubbling over with animal spirits and gentle humour ; 
Addison, the serenest mind in literature ; Steele, adorably 
human : how different they were ! But the world called them 
wits, and they were all alike in one respect : they proved their 
right to the title by their pens. No doubt they made some 
play with their tongues too. They sat in coffee-houses, amid 
clouds of smoke, and it is quite possible they said witty things 
occasionally for the benefit of the public who came to look on. 
But it must have been only on occasion for the reminiscences 
of those who saw the great men at the coffee-houses are 
singularly tame. One old gentleman had seen Dryden at 
Will's, and could only remember that the poet had his chair 
inside during the winter, and outside during the summer : which 
was hardly worth remembering. But, after all, as some wise 
man has said, " the only test of genius is the production of works 
of genius." The pen is a great solvent of reputations. Now 
Pope and Addison and their friends did at least prove their wit 
and their genius by pen and paper and printer's ink. You 
might come away from Button's under the impression that 
Mr Addison was a singularly overrated man ; but there next 
morning on your breakfast-table was The Tatler, fresh from 
the press, with an undeniably amusing article from Mr Addison's 
pen. But with the passing of the Queen Anne and early 
Georgian wits came a change. The professional wit, who was 
also a professional man of letters, disappeared ; the Aristocratic 
Amateur took his place. Now the Aristocratic Amateur is the 
curse of every art, not because he does not take himself seriously 
enough, but because he takes himself too seriously. This applies 






112 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

even to the art of saying good things in society. The amateur 
prepares his impromptus, and carefully fashions in secret his 
repartees. His obiter dicta are immortal. Happy the hostess 
whose dinner-table he adorns. 

The later eighteenth-century wit, then, was essentially an 
aristocratic amateur. This gentleman came slowly into vogue. 
In Restoration times Dorset was such an one ; so was Rochester ; 
both these peers were also minor poets, and wrote amusing, if 
anaemic, verses. We must also class Bolingbroke under this 
head. It is true that Bolingbroke had something very like 
genius. He both wrote and spoke well. " Lord Bolingbroke," 
said Lord Chesterfield, " talked all day long full as elegantly as 
he wrote. He adorned whatever subject he either spoke or 
wrote upon by the most splendid eloquence ; not a studied and 
laboured eloquence, but by such a flowing happiness of diction 
which (from care perhaps at first) was become so habitual to 
him, that even his most familiar conversations, if taken down in 
writing, would have borne the press without the least correction 
either as to method or style." Yes, but there it is. From the 
point of view of art you must always distrust the eloquent 
person, and the person whose conversation would "bear the 
press " without correction. The real artist is commonly neither 
eloquent nor polished in conversation : stupid people discover 
themselves to be quite brilliant beside him. Bolingbroke there- 
fore must go down as an aristocratic amateur, but of a very 
high kind. And after Bolingbroke, Chesterfield. This " beetle- 
browed, hook-nosed, high-shouldered gentleman" is the most 
famous of all aristocratic amateurs of the eighteenth century. 
It is not surprising that he should be classed as an amateur in 
wit, since he was an amateur in so many other things also. He 
was statesman, diplomatist, author, patron, and reformer of the 
calendar ; he was only indeed a wit in his idle moments. But 
he is important to us as being the first Wit with a capital W 
that is to say, he had a reputation for conversational, as distinct 
from literary wit, though he had that as well. His " Letters " 
of course bring him into the literary circle: but only as an 
amateur. No man can say that they have the true professional 
stamp: that they express the personality of the writer in a 
medium which he has thoroughly conquered and made his own. 
Apart, however, from his literary work, Lord Chesterfield had 



MR SELWYN THE WIT 113 

in his lifetime, and for many years, the reputation of a wit. 
Johnson said that his bon-mots were " nearly all puns " ; and so 
a good many of them were. One, not recorded, which Chester- 
field made upon Lord Melbourne, angered Selwyn very much ; 
for it happened to be in bad taste, and its author kindly 
fathered it upon the younger wit : " I hate to go to the house 
[Melbourne's]," wrote Selwyn, " for one thing, and that is 
because it is the object of envy to I do not know how many 
women, who are always recording what I am supposed to say 
on its being built. You must have heard of that foolish pun of 
my Lord Chesterfield's which he was pleased to make me the 
author of." The witticism recorded in Boswell, however, is 
quite good for the eighteenth century. " My Lord Tyrawly 
and I," said Chesterfield, " have been dead these two years, but 
we don't choose to have it known." 

Lord Chesterfield is further important to us as being the 
link between Bolingbroke and George Selwyn. With Boling- 
broke he is the statesman and the man of letters ; with Selwyn 
he is the wit, pure and simple. Chesterfield was born in 1694, 
and was therefore of the generation before Selwyn's. He was 
a middle-aged man, and his bon-mots were beginning to lose 
their flavour with the town, when Selwyn appeared in St 
James's Street. The two men met frequently at White's, 
and perhaps the older wit gave the younger lessons in their 
common art. At all events, Selwyn succeeded gradually to 
something like the reputation of Chesterfield, although he never 
attained the wide fame of that peer. And Selwyn wore his rue 
with a difference. He was not a literary man, and never wrote 
a line for publication in his life. He was a wit, and nothing 
else : that is to say for now we have arrived at something like 
the connotation of the term in the eighteenth century he was 
a person moving exclusively in the higher social circles, who 
cultivated the art of witty conversation. He was the perfect 
type of the aristocratic amateur. 

When we come to examine Selwyn's achievements as a wit, 
we are there is no use in denying it acutely conscious of a 
sense of disappointment. For in these recorded bon-mots^ 
stories, epigrams, there is little wit and less humour. If ever 
there was a sparkle, it has died out ; the laughter and the 
fun are gone. Every writer upon George Selwyn has made 
H 



114 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

the same discovery, and has felt the same disappointment. 
" What ? " they say in effect, " is this your brilliant eighteenth- 
century wit? Was it these faded anecdotes that brought 
smiles to the eyes of our great-grandfathers and -grand- 
mothers?" "The humour has evaporated in the bottling," 
says Thackeray, shaking his head sadly. " No task can be 
more disappointing in its result," says Mr Jesse, " than that of 
collecting the scattered bon-mots of a man of professed wit, with 
a view to prove that his reputation is well deserved." It is 
indeed a sorry business. To begin with, wit as distinct from 
humour is itself a sorry business, and hardly worthy of a 
civilised man. But there are one or two things which Selwyn's 
critics might do well to remember. They might remember that 
Helen's face is never so fair as to those who actually launched the 

" thousand ships 
And burned the topmost towers of Ilium." 

Men and women have their day and die. Fashions change. 
New generations grow up healthily sceptical about the looks of 
the Grecian lady or the exploits of Moses. Then, what good 
story is the better for re-telling? And can a retort ever sound 
quite so happy as at the electric moment of its saying ? We all 
know how difficult it is to repeat a really good story. The 
point hangs fire, somehow, and we finger the trigger uneasily 
for a few moments (the politely interested spectator repressing 
yawns meanwhile) before the weapon at length goes off, or 
before we realise that it has missed fire altogether. And then 
the retort, the repartee. How difficult it is to make it shine for 
the second time ! The fact is that there are certain elements 
in the " first fine careless rapture " which can never be ours 
again. We can never again have, for example, the atmosphere 
of the moment charged with a hundred subtle personal emotions 
and sympathies. That has gone for ever. Nor can we have 
and this is all-important in connection with George Selwyn 
the manner of the speaker : the look in his eyes, the tones of 
his voice, his trick of gesture. We spend an evening at the 
pantomime or at the theatre in roars of laughter ; and next 
morning we are a little ashamed of ourselves. After all, what 
was there to laugh at ? We cannot for the life of us remember 
that the clown or the comedian said anything that was particu- 



MR SELWYN THE WIT 115 

larly amusing. Over the breakfast-table in the cold morning 
light we entirely fail to justify our laughter to the family. 
But were we laughing, then, at the words of Harlequin or of 
Mr Payne? Of course not. We were laughing at Harlequin's 
droll capers, at the exquisitely funny way in which Mr Payne 
slapped Mr Grossmith on the back. Now, according to con- 
temporary opinion, George Selwyn had at least the manner of 
the born wit. He knew how to give that touch of freshness to 
the ordinary which the Latin grammar tells us is so difficult. 
He said trite things gracefully. And he knew also the value of 
contrast. Selwyn had a dark, even a saturnine, countenance : 
he was essentially a melancholy man ; his demeanour was 
solemn and grave. When a man of this type makes a joke 
(and they nearly all do) the effect is heightened by the unex- 
pectedness of the thing ; for, after all, surprise is at the very 
core of humour. Selwyn had all this advantage of contrast, 
and made the most of it. Again, he was undoubtedly a very 
somnolent person, especially in his middle and later years. 
According to his friends, he was continually falling asleep. 
He slept in the House of Commons ; he slept at the card-table ; 
the only place perhaps where he did not sleep was in bed. 
Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, who was his colleague in Parliament for 
some years and knew him well, discussing this question of 
manner, said : " The effect [of his jests] when falling from his lips 
became greatly augmented by the listless and drowsy manner 
in which he uttered them, for he always seemed half asleep ; yet 
the promptitude of his replies was surprising. The late Duke 
of Queensberry, who lived in the most intimate friendship with 
him, told me that Selwyn was present at a public dinner with 
the Mayor and Corporation of Gloucester in the year 1/58, 
when the intelligence arrived of our expedition having failed 
before Rochfort. The Mayor, turning to Selwyn, 'You, sir,' 
said he, 'who are in the ministerial secrets, can, no doubt, 
inform us of the cause of this misfortune?' Selwyn, though 
utterly ignorant on this subject, yet unable to resist the occasion 
of amusing himself at the enquirer's expense, ' I will tell you 
in confidence the reason, Mr Mayor,' answered he; 'the fact 
is that the scaling ladders, prepared for the occasion, were found 
on trial to be too short.' This solution, which suggested itself 
to him at the moment, was considered by the Mayor to be 



116 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

perfectly explanatory of the failure . . . not being aware, 
though Selwyn was, that Rochfort lies on the river Charente, 
some leagues from the sea-shore, and that our troops had never 
even effected a landing on the French coast." " I don't know a 
single bon-mot that is new," says Horace Walpole, "George 
Selwyn has not waked yet for the winter. You will believe that 
when I tell you that t'other night having lost eight hundred 
pounds at hazard, he fell asleep upon a table with near half as 
much more before him, and slept for three hours, with every- 
body stamping the box close at his ear. He will say prodigi- 
ously good things when he does wake." But did he say 
" prodigiously good things " when he woke ? That can only be 
decided by giving recorded specimens of Selwyn's wit, and 
leaving each person to judge of the matter for himself. 

Here, for example, is Selwyn's adventure with Audrey Lady 
Townshend. (They say this lady was the original of Lady 
Bellaston in " Tom Jones " : but this is distinctly a libel.) " On 
Sunday last " Walpole, of course, is the narrator " George 
Selwyn was strolling home to dinner at half an hour after four. 
He saw my Lady Townshend's coach stop at Caraccioli's Chapel. 
He watched, saw her go in ; her footman laughed ; he followed. 
She went up to the altar, a woman brought her a cushion ; she 
knelt, crossed herself, and prayed. He stole up and knelt by 
her. Conceive her face, if you can, when she turned and found 
him close to her. In his demure voice he said, ' Pray, madam, 
how long has your ladyship left the pale of our Church ? ' She 
looked furies, and made no answer. Next day he went to her, 
and she turned it off upon curiosity ; but is anything more 
natural? No, she certainly means to go armed with every 
viaticum ; the Church of England in one hand, Methodism in 
the other, and the host in her mouth." We want Mr Meredith 
to bring out the full comedy of this incident : the eccentric lady 
saying her prayers on the sly ; the artful Selwyn stealing up 
the aisle and whispering in her ear in his mock-serious voice ; 
the eccentric lady's dismay on hearing the voice ; and the 
triumph of the artful one. This indeed is not a specimen of 
Selwyn's wit : it is a specimen of his appreciation of the comic. 
Here, however, is wit, almost of a Thackerayan kind. At the 
sale of Mr Pelham's effects Selwyn, who was present, observed 
thoughtfully, as he pointed to a silver dinner service, " Lord ! 






MR SELWYN THE WIT 117 

How many toads have been eaten off these plates?" And here 
is quite the best of Selwyn's bon-mots. A namesake of Charles 
Fox having been hung at Tyburn : " Did you attend the exe- 
cution, George ? " asked Fox. " No, Charles," drawled Selwyn, 
"I make a point of never attending rehearsals!" One of the 
waiters at Arthur's club having been committed to prison for a 
felony, " What a horrid idea," said Selwyn, " he will give of us 
to the people at Newgate." George II., for some reason or 
other, did not like Selwyn, and called him " that rascal George." 
" Rascal ? " murmured Selwyn when he heard it, " that's an 
hereditary title of the Georges, isn't it ? " Selwyn made one 
good and one bad " House of Commons " joke. Here is the 
good one : An M.P. being ill, and not getting any better, 
" why " asked Selwyn, " don't they give him the journals to 
smell to ? " And here is the bad one : observing Mr Ponsonby, 
Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, tossing about bank- 
bills at a hazard-table at Newmarket, " Look," said Selwyn, 
" how easily the Speaker passes the money-bills." Once upon 
a time, too, a certain M.P. met Selwyn leaving the House of 
Commons. "What?" says he, "is the House up?" "No," 
replied Selwyn sadly, " but Burke is." One wonders if this is 
the origin of the famous " dinner-bell " epithet. Another 
political bon-mot of Selwyn's is also worth recording. On the 
fall of the Grenville ministry, more than one member of that 
Government ascribed the downfall of their party mainly to the 
enmity which existed between the Princess Dowager and the 
Duchess of Bedford. " These gentlemen," said Selwyn, " put 
me in mind of thieves, who, on their way to execution, always 
assign their ruin to lewd women." 

George Selwyn's witticisms, like everybody else's, may be 
divided into good, bad and indifferent. We have now seen 
most of those which can rightly be called good ; but how many 
of the bad and the indifferent remain ! You may open Wai- 
pole's letters at almost any page and stumble upon an (alleged) 
witticism of Selwyn's. You may carefully make a collection of 
these witticisms, but the result will not be pleasing. Frankly, 
they are most of them even allowing for the inferiority of the 
written to the spoken word indifferent, not to say bad. Let us 
winnow out a few more of them, however. One night at White's, 
observing the Postmaster - General, Sir Everard Fawkener, 



118 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

losing a large sum of money at picquet, Selwyn, pointing to the 
successful player, remarked : " See how he is robbing the mail ! " 
Lady Coventry was one day exhibiting a new dress to George 
Selwyn. It was blue, with spots of silver of the size of a 
shilling, and a silver trimming, and cost (says Walpole) " my 
lord will know what." She asked George how he liked it ; he 
replied : " Why, you will be change for a guinea ! " " How did 
you like the farce ? " queries Horace in another letter. " George 
Selwyn says he wants to see High Life Below Stairs, as he is 
weary of Low Life above Stairs." Fox and Richard Fitz- 
patrick once lodged together at Mackie's, an oilman, in Picca- 
dilly. Someone mentioned this at Brooks's, and said it would 
be the ruin of poor Mackie. " On the contrary," replied Selwyn, 
" so far from ruining him, they will make Mackie's fortune ; for 
he will have the credit of having the finest pickles in his house 
of any man in London." Fox was once boasting at Brooks's 
of the advantageous peace he had ratified with France, adding 
that he had at length prevailed upon the court of Versailles to 
relinquish all pretensions to the gum trade in favour of Great 
Britain. Selwyn, who was present, but apparently asleep in his 
chair, exclaimed : " That Charles, I am not at all surprised at ; 
for having permitted the French to draw your teeth, they would 

indeed be d d fools to quarrel with you about your gums." 

A young gentleman (Mr Thomas Foley) having fled to the 
Continent from his creditors : " 'Tis a pass-over" remarked 
Selwyn, "that will not be much relished by the Jews." Walk- 
ing once with Lord Pembroke, Selwyn was besieged by a 
number of young chimney-sweeps, who kept asking for money. 
" I have often," says Selwyn, with a bow, " heard of the 
sovereignty of the people : I presume your Highnesses are in 
Court mourning?" It was at Earl Gower's dinner-table that 
Charles Townshend and George Selwyn once (and perhaps 
many times) had a combat of wit, the honours at the end re- 
maining easy. After the party broke up, Charles carried George 
in his chariot to the door of White's. "Good-night," cried 
Charles, as they parted. " Good-night," replied Selwyn "and 
'member, this (hie} is the first (hie} set-down you have given me 
to-night." One has inserted here the time-honoured bibulous 
interpolations ; for George must have been very drunk when he 
perpetrated this unworthy pun. 



MR SELWYN THE WIT 119 

As time went on, Walpole recorded fewer and fewer of 
Selwyn's witticisms, for the very good reason that Selwyn grew 
wiser, and graver, and sadder even, as he grew older. He had 
little inclination to .laugh, and joke, and cut capers. His mode 
passed too ; and why record the bon-mots of a demoded person 
of a wit that was even if he be your dearest friend ? But 
among Selwyn's own letters to Carlisle in later years we find a 
wintry gleam of humour here and there. The sun comes out 
and shines uncertainly for a moment ; and then the sombre 
clouds roll up again and there is nothing but gloom. He 
recommends his butcher to Carlisle, with a remark : " So much 
for that, and more it is not meat for me to say. I have known 
you make a worse pun than that " he adds, " and therefore do 
not find fault with this." But no man could make a worse pun 
than that. Something better is his description of a certain en- 
graving which he saw in a shop in St James's Street. " His 
design is ingenious ; it is the story of Pharaoh's daughter find- 
ing Moses in the bulrushes ... I would have a pendant to it, 
and that should be of Pharo's sons, where might be introduced 
a good many of our friends and acquaintance from the other 
side of the Street." Selwyn, by the way, was an inveterate 
punster ; but it is a mistake to say that his wit was, like 
Chesterfield's, "all puns." Feeble as it was, it was not so 
feeble as that. There is again considerable humour in his re- 
ference to a certain invitation to dinner. " It was to meet Mr 
Pitt, and to eat a turtle : quelle chere ! The turtle I should have 
liked, but how Mr Pitt is to be dressed I cannot tell. . . . You 
will not believe it perhaps, but a Minister of any description, 
although served up in his great shell of power, and all his green 
fat about him, is to me a dish by no means relishing, and I 
never knew but one in my life I could pass an hour with 
pleasantly, which was Lord Holland." Humorous and shrewd 
too is his hit at what Matthew Arnold called "the extreme 
license of affirmation about God." " His [God's] ways," wrote 
Selwyn, "are inscrutable, and yet there is not one, from his 
Grace of Canterbury to the lowest fish-woman in St James's 
Market, who is not constantly accounting for everything He 
does." Probably Selwyn's last recorded bon-mot is that which 
he scribbled upon a letter to his niece Mary Townshend. " I 
am sorry to putt you to this expence," he writes, " but I hope 



120 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

at the Resurrection to repay you in franks." Good old Tory 
that he was, fondly to imagine that the British M.P. would be 
found franking letters amid the crash of worlds. 

Selwyn's mode as a wit passed ; other and younger men 
took his place. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, for example, began 
to be spoken of as his successor. Selwyn did not like this at 
all. What man does like to be superseded, even as the 
exponent of an art which he affects to despise? Besides, 
Sheridan was a nobody ; a mere Irish adventurer ; still further, 
a member of the detested Opposition. Now it happened that 
Sheridan's friends were determined to elect him to Brooks's 
club, of which George Selwyn was a prominent member, and 
Selwyn was equally determined to keep him out. "Two 
[members]," says Wraxall, "held him in peculiar dislike; I 
mean George Selwyn and the Earl of Besborough. Conscious 
that every exertion would be made to ensure Sheridan's 
success, they agreed not to absent themselves during the time 
allotted by the regulations of the club for ballots, and as one 
black-ball sufficed to extinguish the hope of a candidate, they 
repeatedly prevented his election." Wraxall then goes on 
to tell of Sheridan's triumph. " Sheridan's friends had recourse 
to artifice. Having fixed on the evening when it was resolved 
to put him up, and finding his two inveterate enemies posted as 
usual, a chairman was sent with a note, written in the name of 
Lady Duncannon to her father-in-law, acquainting him that 
a fire had broken out in his house in Cavendish Square, and 
entreating him immediately to return home. Unsuspicious 
of any trick, as his son and daughter-in-law lived under his 
roof, Lord Besborough, without hesitating an instant, quitted 
the room, and got into a Sedan chair. Selwyn, who resided in 
the vicinity of Brooks's, in Cleveland Row, received nearly 
at the same time, a verbal message to request his presence, 
Miss Fagnani 1 (whom he had adopted as his daughter . . .) 
being suddenly seized with an alarming indisposition. This 
summons he obeyed ; and no sooner was the room cleared, 
than Sheridan, being proposed as a member, a ballot took 
place, when he was immediately chosen. Lord Besborough 
and Selwyn returned without delay on discovering the im- 
position that had been practised on their credulity, but too 

1 See Chapter XI. 



MR SELWYN THE WIT 121 

late to prevent its effects." There is another version of this 
story, in which the Regent detains Selwyn in the hall of 
the club with a long and pointless anecdote until the election is 
over. But both versions are probably apocryphal. 

When all has been urged that can be urged in favour of 
George Selwyn as a wit, the fact remains that the quality 
of his wit was poor. He was not of course in the same class 
with the wits of Queen Anne's time ; nor even with Chester- 
field ; and certainly not with later wits like Hook and Sydney 
Smith. And this for a very good reason : his wit lacked the 
"fundamental brain-work" without which great wit is im- 
possible. One cannot read the letters of George Selwyn with- 
out very quickly coming to the conclusion that the texture 
of his mind was commonplace. He was by turns a good- 
natured young man about town and an amiable country 
gentleman; but he was nothing more. He dwelt on the surface 
of things. His views and opinions were the ordinary obvious 
views and opinions of the ordinary, obvious Englishman. Not 
of such stuff are great wits made. A fine wit goes with a fine 
brain ; and Selwyn's brain was not fine. How then can we 
account for his vogue ? That question has already been partly 
answered : it was the vogue of a voice and a manner. For the 
rest we must fall back upon the " pass-the-mustard " theory 
of wit. " When Lady Tweedale protests, I cannot speak but 
it is a bon-mot" Exactly. Brown or Jones may say exquisitely 
funny things to Lady Tweedale, without extracting from her 
the most wintry smile ; but Mr Selwyn sends her ladyship into 
fits of laughter by merely remarking that it is a fine morning. 
That, however, is the sort of world we live in : a difficult world 
for those aspiring nobodies, Brown and Jones, but an easy 
world for a person whose position is so well assured as was that 
of " Mr Selwyn the Wit." 



CHAPTER VIII 

THE MORBID SELWYN 

N" O tradition about George Selwyn is more obstinate 
than that which attributes to him a constant and 
morbid interest in criminals, in the execution of 
criminals, and, generally, in the details of suffering and of death. 
People spoke thus of him during his life, much to his own 
vexation ; and since his death every writer upon Selwyn with 
the one exception of Dr John Warner, his "parasite" has 
accepted the tradition as something established beyond a doubt 
These gentlemen follow a well-understood method. They find 
stories in Walpole and elsewhere of Selwyn's "fondness for 
executions " ; they take them with great seriousness ; and they 
transfer them to their own pages with additions like " It is well 
known that Mr Selwyn . . ." or, " Mr Selwyn had, as everybody 
knows . . ." That is how traditions are entrenched as the 
years go on. Biographers (except they be Germans) are a 
lazy folk : or were in Victorian days. They don't stop to 
investigate hoary and venerable anecdotes, partly because it 
is a trouble to do so, and partly because at the end of your 
investigations you probably only succeed in spoiling a good 
story. Indeed there is something to be said for this view, and 
criticism of the higher kind too often robs biography of some 
of its brightness. But truth is again coming rapidly into 
fashion ; and the truth about the " morbid Selwyn " is that 
there was no such person, at least in the sense in which the term 
is used by the lethargic biographer. George Selwyn was no 
doubt in his later years a morbid and melancholy man. But 
he was morbid and melancholy about himself: about his health, 
his friends, his money, his future. He was not excessively 
morbid or melancholy about thieves and murderers, Tyburn 
Tree, and the dead-house. Yet this tradition about Selwyn is 
highly curious and interesting, and is worth a somewhat 
extended examination. 

Walpole began it, at least in print, and at a very early period. 

122 



I 







GEORGE SELWYN 

FRf.M A PENCIL DRAWING I1V J. JACKSON, R.A., AFTER AN ORIGINAL BV SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS- 



THE MORBID SELWYN 123 

"You know," he writes to Montagu in 1747, "George never 
thinks but a la tete tranchee : he came to town t'other day to 
have a tooth drawn, and told the man that he would drop his 
handkerchief for the signal." Could anyone, by the way, read 
this story and not perceive its club origin ? But Walpole had 
an excellent eye for " copy." Three years afterwards he writes 
to Sir Horace Mann : " Pray mind how I string old stories to-day. 
This old Craggs [who had been a footman] was angry with 
Arthur More who had worn a livery too, and who was getting 
into a coach with him, turned about and said, ( why, Arthur, I 
am always going to get up behind, aren't you ? ' I told this 
story the other day to George Selwyn, whose passion is to see 
coffins, and corpses, and executions" the legend is growing 
now " he replied that Arthur More had had his coffin chained 
to that of his mistress. ' Lord ! ' said I, 'how do you know? ' 
* Why, I saw them the other day in a vault at St Giles's.' He 
was walking this week in Westminster Abbey with Lord 
Abergavenny, and met the man who shews the tombs : ' Oh ! 
your servant, Mr Selwyn ; I expected to have seen you here the 
other day, when the old Duke of Richmond's body was taken 
up ! ' Shall I tell you another story of George Selwyn . . . ? 
With this strange and dismal turn, he has infinite fun and 
humour in him. He went lately on a party of pleasure to see 
places with Lord Abergavenny and a pretty Mrs Frere, who 
love one another a little. At Cornbury there are portraits of 
all the royalists and regicides, and illustrious headless. Mrs 
Frere ran about, looked at nothing, let him look at nothing, 
screamed about Indian paper, and hurried over all the rest. 
George grew peevish, called her back, told her it was monstrous 
when he had come so far with her, to let him see nothing : 
' And you are a fool, you don't know what you missed in the 
other room!' 'Why, what?' 'Why, my Lord Holland's 
picture ! ' ' Well, what is my Lord Holland to me ? ' ' Why, 
do you know,' said he, ' that my Lord Holland's body lies in 
the same vault in Kensington Church with my Lord Aberga- 
venny's mother ? ' Lord ! she was so obliged and thanked him a 
thousand times." These anecdotes sound very convincing, until 
we remember that Lord Abergavenny was one of " Bosky's " 
bosom friends at Oxford, and used to meet him " at Juggins's, 
at eleven," with Assheton and Lord Downe. Where did Wai- 



124 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

pole pick the stories up ? Would it be a wild guess to say that 
it was at White's, where Abergavenny retailed them to a circle 
of choice spirits at the four o'clock ordinary, while Selwyn 
laughed, and ate his dinner with the utmost good humour, and 
Walpole (some way down the table) made mental notes of them 
for his next letter ? 

To Lord Holland not he of the Kensington vaults, but 
Henry Fox is attributed what is quite the best bon-mot on this 
subject. The story is told by General Fox, son of Charles James, 
in a letter to Leigh Hunt. "George Selwyn was, as you say, a 
great friend of Henry Fox. He had a strange (but not uncommon) 
passion for seeing dead bodies, especially those of his friends. 
He would go any distance to gratify this pursuit. Lord Holland 
was laid up very ill at Holland House shortly before his death, 
when he was told that Selwyn had called to inquire after his 
health. ' The next time Mr Selwyn calls,' he said, ' show him 
up : if I am alive I shall be delighted to see him, and if I am 
dead he will be glad to see me.' " This story is far too good to 
be touched by the higher criticism. But Mr Jesse's exquisite 
comment upon it must be reproduced : " and yet," says he im- 
pressively, " this was the same individual who delighted in the 
first words and in the sunny looks of childhood ; whose friend- 
ship seems to have partaken of all the softness of female affec- 
tion ; and whose heart was never hardened against the wretched 
and oppressed." Yes, indeed. 

But Lord Holland was always poking fun at Selwyn on this 
subject. " You saw Mr Delm< the night before he shot himself," 
he writes, " and I suppose you took care to see him the night 
after." This indeed was the kind of humour which appealed to 
Lord Holland, who, with a hundred good qualities, had lurking 
somewhere in his nature a black drop of bitterness. Holland, 
however, was not the only correspondent of Selwyn's who kept 
this mortuary jest going. Thus Gilly Williams " almost forgot 
to tell you that the day I left you I rode near ten miles on my way 
home with the Ordinary of Gloucester and have several anecdotes 
of the late burnings and hangings which I have reserved for 
your private ear. I do not know whether he was sensible you 
had a partiality for his profession, but he expressed the greatest 
regard for you, and I am sure you may command his service." 
And George (the first Marquis) Townshend writes : " To my 



125 

well -beloved friend and companion George Selwyn from my 
cell at Dundee ... I know you will not dislike this style, 
which gives my epistle the air of a malefactor's confession." 
" The boys," in short, were constantly chaffing Selwyn on his 
alleged morbid tastes. But by degrees the joke travelled 
outside this circle, and tickled the ears of even royalty 
itself. Thus a story almost as good as Lord Holland's is 
attributed to his Majesty King George III., whose bon-mots 
were surely of the rarest occurrence. Anthony Storer relates 
it in a letter to Sir William Eden, afterwards Lord Auckland, 
in which he describes Selwyn at court. " George was most 
magnificent," he writes, " and new in every article of dress. 
Either a few days before this event or soon afterwards, he 
was at the levee : at the same time there was someone in 
the circle who had brought up an address from the country 
and was to be knighted on that occasion. George, as soon 
as the King had spoken to him, withdrew and went away ; 
the King then knighted the ambitious squire. The King 
afterwards in his closet expressed his astonishment to the 
Groom in Waiting that Mr Selwyn should not wish to stay 
to see the ceremony of his making the new Knight, ob- 
serving that it looked so like an execution that he took 
it for granted Mr Selwyn would have stayed to see it. 
George heard of this joke, but did not like it ; he is on 
that subject still very sore'' The italics, as commentators 
say, "are ours." George was becoming a little tired of 
the joke. But it was destined nevertheless to pursue him 
beyond the grave. Hardly had the breath left his body 
when The Gentleman's Magazine minted it afresh and gave 
it new currency. " It was amongst the well-known singu- 
larities of that witty character Mr G. Selwyn that he had 
a particular penchant for public executions," wrote Mr Urban. 
Whether it arose from a principle of curiosity or philosophy 
it is perhaps difficult to determine ; but so it was that scarcely 
any great criminal was carried to the gallows but George was 
a spectator on the opposite scaffold. " The execution of Damiens, 
the celebrated assassin" by the way, he was not exactly an 
" assassin " : he only gave his Majesty King Louis XV. a slight 
wound with a pen-knife " ... so excited Mr S.'s curiosity that 
ic went over to Paris a month before that event to purchase in 



126 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

time a convenient place to behold so novel a spectacle. Every- 
thing being previously prepared and the day arrived, George 
took his stand, dressed in a plain brown bob wig, and as 
plain a suit of broad cloth, an undress he generally wore, and 
which at that time of day evidently pointed him out as an 
English bourgeois. The horrid ceremony commenced, when 
Mr S. from his dress and the sympathy which he showed 
upon this occasion, so attracted the notice of a French 
nobleman that, coming round to him on the scaffold and 
slapping him on the shoulder he exclaimed : ' Eh bien, 
monsieur, etes-vous arrive pour voir ce spectacle ? ' ' Oui, 
monsieur.' ' Vous etes bourreau ? ' ' Non, non, monsieur ; 
je n'ai cette honneur ; je ne suis qu'un amateur.' " The 
same story is to be found in the posthumous Memoirs of 
Sir Nathaniel Wraxall. This was the gentleman, it will be 
remembered, who sat in Parliament as Selwyn's colleague 
for the borough of Ludgershall. In the Memoirs, Wraxall, 
who knew Selwyn "with some degree of intimacy," gives 
on the whole a fair sketch of his character. But he drags 
in the inevitable legend. " Selwyn's nervous irritability," he 
says, " and anxious curiosity to observe the effect of dissolution 
on men, exposed him to much ridicule, not unaccompanied with 
censure. He was accused of attending all executions ; and 
sometimes, in order to elude notice, disguised in a female dress." 
(This is something quite new.) " I have been assured that in 1756, 
he went over to Paris expressly for the purpose of witnessing 
the last moments of Damiens, who expired under the most 
acute tortures for having attempted the life of Louis XV." And 
then follows Mr Urban's story. Damiens was put to death in 
March 1757, and there is no record of Selwyn's having been in 
Paris in that month. Of course he may have been, and may 
even have attended the execution in the Place de Greve, but 
again, he may not. No admirer of George Selwyn could wish 
him to have seen this miserable butchery. Remember what 
they did to Damiens, messieurs the patricians of France. They 
lacerated his flesh with red-hot pincers, and poured boiling oil 
and boiling lead into the wounds. After this preliminary plea- 
santry they tied his limbs separately to horses, and the horses 
tore him to pieces. It does not bear thinking about. This 
weak-minded young man had slightly injured another man 



THE MORBID SELWYN 127 

with the small blade of a pen-knife ; but the other man hap- 
pened to be a King. 1 

The Damiens anecdote was denied in a subsequent issue of 
the Gentleman's by an anonymous correspondent, generally 
presumed to be Dr John Warner. "You copied it," he says, 
writing from Paris, " I suppose, as you must many other things, 
from a misinformed newspaper ... I am irresistibly compelled 
to set you and your readers right, from a feeling of the Sopho- 
clean maxim of its being base to be silent. When he lived it 
was his own affair, but now he is gone it becomes us to help 
him who cannot help himself. Nothing could be more ab- 
horrent than the taste for executions from his real character, 
which, I presume, you will allow me to know from a friendship 
of forty years, of which I feel the deprivation most sensibly, 
as I may truly say, as David did of Jonathan ' very pleasant 
hath thou been to me.' He was better by nature (as Jean 
Jacques will tell you we all are) than he was by grace ; for 
(besides excellent abilities and a most pleasant imagination as 
all the world knows), he had from her one of the most tender 
and benevolent hearts. . . ." This defence would appear not 
to have satisfied some readers of the magazine, who, in the 
manner of readers, no doubt bombarded the editor with letters 
on the subject ; upon which Mr Urban observed, somewhat 
tartly : " knowing as we do most thoroughly, the indubitable 
veracity of our Paris correspondent " (Dr Warner) " we cannot 
possibly admit a word further on the subject of Mr Selwyn's 
supposed propensity to be present at executions." The corre- 
spondence, in short, was " now closed." Mr Urban might have 
closed it in a much more decisive way if he had been able to 
quote a letter written by the Baron Friedrich von Grimm to 
M. Diderot on the ist of April 1765. In this letter Grimm 
tells exactly the same story, not of course about Selwyn, but 
about M. de La Condamine, the apostle of inoculation. La 
Condamine was not unlike George Selwyn in character. " Un 
caractere gai," says Grimm, " curieux outre mesure, vrai en tout, 
infatigable dans la recherche de la ve"rite", sans acception de 

1 One of the fine ladies who were present at the execution, Madame de 
Priandeau, had her sensibilities aroused by the difficulty which the horses 
had in tearing Damiens to pieces. " Oh, the poor horses ! '-' says she, " how 
sorry I am for them ! " 



128 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

personne ni de cause, le rend precieux a ceux qui aiment a 
voir des originaux. Sa curiosit^ insatiable sur tous les objets 
jointe a une grande surdite', le rend souvent fatigant aux autres : 
quant a moi, il m'en a toujours paru plus piquant." Then we 
have the original " Damiens " story. " Cette curiosite le porta, 
il y a quelques anne"es a assister au supplice du malheureux 
Damiens. II perca jusq'ua bourreau, et la, tablettes et crayon a 
la main, a chaque tenaillement au coup de barre, il demandait a 
grands cris : ' Qu'est-ce qu'il dit?' Les satellites de maitre Chariot 
voulurent d'ecarter comme un importun ; mais le bourreau dit : 
' Laissez, monsieur est un amateur.' Rien ne prouve mieux le 
pouvoir des passions, puisque la simple curiosit a pu porter un 
homme, d'ailleurs plein de sensibilite et d'humanite, a se raidir 
contre le spectacle le plus horrible dont on puisse se former 
1'idee." 

As this letter was written only eight years after the event, 
and as Grimm knew La Condamine intimately, there can be no 
reasonable doubt that La Condamine, and not Selwyn, was the 
original "amateur" if such a person existed. But who can 
trace a story to its source? On the same page of the Grimm 
correspondence we learn that Madame de Choiseul was once 
writing a letter while M. de La Condamine stood behind her. 
" I would tell you more," the lady wrote, " only M. de La 
Condamine is looking over my shoulder, reading what I write 
to you." " Madame," cried La Condamine, " could anything be 
more unjust? I assure you, you are mistaken." Concerning 
how many people has this story been told since the world 
began? As to the Damiens anecdote, however, Wraxall had 
the " Correspondance Litt^raire" before him, and should not 
have passed on the libel on Selwyn in any such careless and 
casual way. 

This anecdote, then, was just about as authentic as that 
which connects Selwyn with another famous tragedy, that of 
Miss Ray. In the former story he was supposed to be in Paris 
when he was very probably in London ; in the latter he was 
supposed to be in London when in fact he was in Paris. Every- 
body has heard of Parson Hackman and Miss Ray. This lady 
was the mistress of Lord Sandwich, that high-minded noble- 
man who had the sublime audacity to denounce John Wilkes 
for blasphemy and vice, and whose name comes down to us 



THE MORBID SELWYN 129 

linked, not with morality or religion, but with ham. Miss Ray 
was shot while quitting Covent Garden Theatre on the 7th of 
April 1779, by the Rev. James Hackman, a young clergyman- 
admirer of hers. "Last night," said one of the journals next 
morning, " the following melancholy fate terminated the exist- 
ence of the beautiful, the favoured, and yet the unfortunate 
Miss Ray. As she was stepping into her carriage from Covent 
Garden Theatre, a clergyman, whose name we hear is Hackman, 
and who lives in Craven Street, came up and lodged the con- 
tents of a pistol in her head ; which done, he instantly shot 
himself, and they fell together. They were carried into the 
Shakespeare, and the ablest assistance called for, but Miss Ray 
expired in a few minutes. The desperate assassin still lives, to 
account for the horrid act, and it is hoped, to suffer for it, his 
wound being on the temple, and supposed not to be dangerous. 
An express was instantly sent for Lord Sandwich. He came 
about 12 o'clock, in the most lamentable agonies, and expressed 
a sorrow that certainly did infinite honour to his feelings." (It 
was certainly very kind of him to be sorry at the brutal murder 
of the mother of his nine children.) Miss Ray's body lay at 
the Shakespeare Tavern for some days, and George Selwyn 
was said to have seen it there. "A correspondent says that 
George Selwyn, with a humanity which did honour to his 
feelings " ah, those dear old eighteenth-century " feelings " ! 
" out of his great esteem and respect for that amiable lady, who 
was so inhumanly murdered in coming out of the playhouse, 
attended at the Shakespeare while the body lay there, sitting 
as a mourner in the room, with a long black cloak on, which 
reached to his heels, and a large hat slouched over his face. 
This made a singular addition to a countenance naturally dark 
and rueful, and rendered him as complete a figure of woe as 
ever was exhibited at any funeral, or in any procession. It 

was his friend, the Duke of Q y, who detected him in that 

garb ; his Grace, by a similarity of feelings, being drawn to the 
same place." Was this correspondent's name by any chance 
Charles Fox ? Or Dick Fitzpatrick ? Or Gilly Williams ? At 
all events, Selwyn was indubitably in Paris at the time, or at 
least on his way thither. (He was at Dover on the 7th, and 
reached Paris on the I2th.) His friend Dr Warner wrote 
him on the eighth : " I called to-day, in coming from Coutts's, 



at the Shakespeare Tavern, in order to see the corpse of Miss 
Ray, and to send you some account of it ; but I had no interest 
with her keepers, and could not get admittance for money." 
Selwyn wrote from Paris to Mary Townshend in the same 
month : " We have a Miss Wray (sic) of our own, a sinister 
story, with a different catastrophe." l On the 4th of May he 
writes again : " Our Hackman here destroyed himself with a 
coup de couteau when his pistol failed. What is become of the 
lady his wife I do not know. She was wounded in the breast. 
It happened in the Luxembourg Gardens the day after my 
arrival from Lyons. . . . Hackman I find has died with a 
better character than Lord S. lived with. I never thought his 
Lordship would be inconsolable il riest pas fait de cette etoffe" l 
Various kind friends supplied Selwyn with details of Hackman's 
execution. The Countess of Upper Ossory wrote : " Mr Hack- 
man's behaviour was glorious yesterday. Jack Ketch deserves 
to be hanged, for when the poor man dropped the handkerchief, 
it fell under the cart, and he ran to pick it up ; so by that 
means kept the poor wretch some moments in that horrid 
state." Lord Carlisle (like Mr Boswell) attended the execution 
(" in order to give you an account of it ") and described how 
Hackman " threw down his handkerchief for the cart to move 
on, Jack Ketch, instead of instantly whipping on the horses, 
jumped on the other side of him to snatch up the handkerchief, 
lest he should lose his rights, and then returned to the head of 
the cart and .... Jehu'd him out of the world." Executions 
were grim things in those not distant days. They are grim 
still : only they don't take place at the Marble Arch. 

Such are some of the chief stories about Selwyn's " fondness 
for executions," which may rightly be termed apocryphal. But 
we must not give to him loo virtuous a character, or make him 
better than his time. Selwyn would not have been a man of 
fashion of the eighteenth century if he had not occasionally 
witnessed the last scene in the life of a criminal. At what 
executions, then, was he really a spectator? It is interesting 
to notice that the mortuary jest begins about 1746, when the 
rebel lords were executed on Tower Hill. Selwyn was cer- 
tainly present upon this occasion, and perhaps it would have 
been better for his reputation and his comfort if he had stayed 
1 Marsham-Townshend MSS. 



131 

at home. But he saw an historical sight which is worth more 
than a passing reference. At the end of the year 1745, certain 
Jacobite prisoners, captured at Culloden and elsewhere, were 
brought to London to be tried. George Selwyn, like all the 
young men in St James's Street, was keenly interested in the 
matter, and followed it closely at every stage. Thus in Decem- 
ber a servant at the Tower advises Selwyn of the arrival of 
"the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and this day eight officers 
and seventeen private men taken on board the Soleil" Among 
their prisoners was Mr Radcliffe, son of Lord Derwentwater. 
The mob mistook him for the Pretender's youngest son and 
nearly tore him to pieces. The poor young man " wished he 
had been shot at the Battle of Dettingen " ; he " had heard of 
English mobs, but could not conceive they were so dreadful." 
In the following May a Mr Lang writes to Selwyn : " I find 
by the papers, that the rebel lords [Cromarty, Kilmarnock, and 
Balmerino] are in the river, therefore suppose their trials will 
come on." They were tried at the end of July, and Horace 
Walpole and George Selwyn were both in Westminster Hall at 
the trial. Walpole describes the scene in a letter to Sir Horace 
Mann on 1st August : " I am this moment come from the con- 
clusion of the greatest and most melancholy scene I ever yet 
saw ! " observe that he hastens to compose a letter upon it at 
the earliest opportunity " You will easily guess that it was the 
trials of the rebel lords. As it was the most interesting sight 
it was the most solemn and fine : a coronation is a puppet- 
show, and all the splendour of it idle : but this sight feasted 
one's eyes and engaged all one's passions. It began last 
Monday ; three parts of Westminster Hall were enclosed with 
galleries and hung with scarlet : and the whole ceremony was 
conducted with the most awful solemnity and decency, except 
in the one feint of leaving the prisoners at the bar, amid the 
idle curiosity of the crowd, and even with the witnesses that 
had sworn against them, whilst the lords adjourned to their 
own house to consult. . . . The first appearance of the prisoners 
shocked me ; their behaviour melted me ! Lord Kilmarnock 
and Lord Cromarty are both past forty, but look younger. 
Lord Kilmarnock is tall and slender, with an extreme fine 
person : his behaviour a most just mixture between dignity 
and submission ; if in anything to be reprehended, a little 



132 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

affected, and his hair too exactly dressed for a man in his situa- 
tion : but when I say this, it is not to find fault with him, but 
to show how little fault there was to be found. Lord Cromarty 
is an indifferent figure, appeared much dejected, and rather 
sullen ; he dropped a few tears the first day, and swooned as 
soon as he got back to his cell. For Lord Balmerino, he is the 
most natural brave fellow I ever saw : the highest intrepidity, 
even to indifference. At the bar he behaved like a soldier and 
a man ; in the intervals of form, with carelessness and humour. 
He pressed extremely to have his wife, his pretty Peggy, with 
him in the Tower." Lord Cromarty was pardoned ; Lords 
Kilmarnock and Balmerino were executed on Tower Hill on 
1 8th August. On the i$th Mr William Skrine writes to 
Selwyn to know " what method you design to take for " seeing 
the execution. Selwyn's " method " was to hire a window in a 
house on the Hill : no doubt Mr Skrine and other friends were 
with him. Here is his voucher : 

" TOWER HILL 
" 1 4th August, 1746 

" SIR, As you are unknown to my servants, you will please 
shew them this, when you will be let into my house. I am, Sir, 
Your most humble Servant, S. BETHELL " 

The ubiquitous Walpole was of course also at Tower Hill 
upon that day ; perhaps he had part of George's window. 
It was a great occasion for the Letter- Writer, and he did full 
justice to it : " As the clock struck ten," says he, " they came 
forth on foot, Lord Kilmarnock all in black, his hair un- 
powdered, in a bag, supported by Forster, the great Presby- 
terian, and by Hawe, a young clergyman, his friend. Lord 
Balmerino followed alone in a blue coat, turned up with red, his 
rebellious regimentals ; a flannel waistcoat, and his shroud 
beneath : their hearses following. They were conducted to a 
house near the scaffold ; the room forwards had benches for 
spectators ; in the second Lord Kilmarnock was put, and in the 
third, backwards, Lord Balmerino ; all three chambers hung 
with black. Here they parted. Balmerino embraced the 
other, and said : ' My Lord, I wish I could suffer for both.' . . . 
At last he [Lord Kilmarnock] came to the scaffold, certainly 



THE MORBID SELWYN 133 

much terrified, but with a resolution that prevented his behaving 
in the least meanly or unlike a gentleman. . . . He then took 
off his bag, coat, and waistcoat, with great composure, and, 
after some trouble, put on a napkin cap, and then several times 
tried the block. The executioner was in white, with a white 
apron, out of tenderness concealing the axe behind himself. At 
last the Earl knelt down, with a visible unwillingness to depart, 
and, after five minutes, dropped his handkerchief, the signal, 
and his head was cut off at once, only hanging by a bit of skin, 
and was received in a scarlet cloth by four of the undertaker's 
men, kneeling, who wrapped it up, and put it into the coffin 
with the body ; orders having been given not to expose the 
heads, as used to be the custom. The scaffold was immediately 
new strewed with saw-dust, the block new covered, the execu- 
tioner new dressed, and a new axe brought. 

"Then came old Balmerino, treading with the air of a 
general. As soon as he mounted the scaffold he read the 
inscripton on his coffin, as he did again afterwards ; he then 
surveyed the spectators, who were in amazing numbers, even to 
the masts of ships in the river, and pulling out his spectacles, 
read a treasonable speech, which he delivered to the sheriff, 
and said the young Pretender was so sweet a Prince that flesh 
and blood could not resist following him ; and lying down to 
try the block, he said, ' If I had a thousand lives I would lay 
them all down here in the same cause ! ' He said, if he had not 
taken the Sacrament the day before, he would have knocked 
down Williamson, the Lieutenant of the Tower, for his ill-usage 
of him. He took the axe and felt it, and asked the headman 
how many blows he had given Lord Kilmarnock, and gave him 
three guineas. Two clergymen, who attended him, coming up, 
he said, ' No gentlemen, I believe you have already done me 
all the service you can ! ' Then he went to the corner of the 
scaffold, and called very loud for the warder to give him his 
perriwig, which he took off, and put on a night-cap of Scotch 
plaid, and then pulled off his coat and waistcoat and lay down ; 
but being told he was on the wrong side, vaulted round, and 
immediately gave the sign by tossing up his arm, as if he were 
giving the signal for battle. He received three blows, the first 
certainly took away all sensation. He was not a quarter of 
an hour on the scaffold ; Lord Kilmarnock above half a one. 



134 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

Balmerino certainly died with the intrepidity of a lion, but 
with the insensibility of one too. As he walked from prison to 
execution, seeing every window and top of house filled with 
spectators, he cried out, ' Look, look, how they are all piled up 
like rotten oranges ! ' " For a gentleman of Mr Walpole's 
refinement, this is a wonderfully detailed account of a nasty 
business. He never thought a la tete tranche> or had a morbid 
interest in corpses and executions. The morbidness, oddly 
enough, belonged entirely to the man in the other window- 
seat, who saw the executions too, but didn't write letters about 
them. 

George Selwyn's next "execution" was that of Simon 
Fraser, Lord Lovat. Selwyn attended the trial in Westminster 
Hall (March 1747) ; and on one morning lent his ticket to Mr 
Vincent Mathias, by which he had "one of the best seats 
in the hall, and I lost not a word of all that was said." Lovat 
was executed on the 8th of April, and died, we are told, " with 
a dignity which would have done credit to an ancient Roman." 
Selwyn was again at Tower Hill on this occasion : perhaps in 
Mr Bethell's window. " I must tell you an excessive good 
story of George Selwyn," writes Walpole to Conway. " Some 
women were scolding him for going to see the execution, 
and asked him, how he could be such a barbarian to see the 
head cut off? ' Nay,' says he, ' if that was such a crime, I 
am sure I have made amends, for I went to see it sewed on 
again.' When he was at the undertaker's, as soon as they had 
stitched him together, and were going to put the body into the 
coffin, George, in my Lord Chancellor's voice, said ' My Lord, 
your lordship may rise.'" In July of a year about this time 
Selwyn received a curious note from a Mr T. Phillips. " I can 
with great pleasure inform you, my dear Selwyn," it ran, " that 
the head is ordered to be delivered on the first application 
made on your part. The expense is little more than a guinea ; 
the person who calls for it should pay it. Adieu, mon cher 
mondain" Mr Jesse prints this note with the egregious 
comment : " The editor has been induced to insert this brief 
note because, from George Selwyn's peculiar tastes and eccen- 
tricities, he thought it not altogether improbable that the head 
here alluded to might be one of the rebel lords." Poor Selwyn ! 
Rebel lords have heads, it is true ; but so have statues, and 



THE MORBID SELWYN 135 

game, and parsons' sermons, and a good many other things, 
the names of which may be found in dictionaries. 

These are the only two executions which we positively know 
Selwyn to have attended, and in each case it would have been 
a distinction in his circle not to have attended them. Of course 
he may very probably have seen a good many others at Tyburn 
Tree ; it was the fashion in those days to do so. Young bucks 
would give breakfasts to their friends, and would adjourn after- 
wards to the vicinity of the Marble Arch, and watch the last 
scene in the life of some wretched criminal or other. We may 
still be an imperfectly civilised people ; but have we anything 
quite so bad as this Tyburn business of the eighteenth century? 
Think of that dreadful procession from Newgate to the gallows : 
the cart contains the hangman, the Ordinary of Newgate (a 
" terrible fellow for melted butter "), and the criminal, who bows 
and smiles to the shouting, filthy mob. It draws up at. length 
under the gallows, and Mr Ketch leisurely adjusts the rope. 
We allow the unfortunate a few moments for prayer, or to make 
a speech, or to eat an orange, or to exchange jokes with his 
friends in the crowd. Then he drops the handkerchief (good 
God ! after what frightful hesitation !) ; the cart moves on ; and 
the body is left swinging and quivering but a few feet from the 
ground, and before the eyes of half the metropolis. George 
Selwyn may have been present at more than one of these 
public shows in his younger days : it would have been strange 
if he had not been. How many " execution breakfasts " did 
Gilly Williams give, I wonder ? There, for example, was the 
case of " Harrington's porter." " An ample confession has been 
made concerning the robbery committed last year at Lord 
Harrington's " (writes Gilly Williams to Selwyn) ; " the porter 
and another man will be hanged. Lady Harrington is in great 
spirits with the discovery." They are all in great spirits, to 
be sure. " Harrington's porter was condemned yesterday. 
Cadogan and I " (says Gilly) " have already bespoken places at 
the Brazier's, and I hope Parson Digby will come time enough 
to be of the party. I presume we shall have your honour's 
company, if your stomach is not too squeamish for a single 
swing." Later on Gilly arranged a breakfast for "Wednesday 
next, the morning the porter makes his exit. If Parson Digby 
is in town I shall send him a card ; he is our ordinary on all 



136 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

these great occasions." The breakfast apparently came off as 
arranged ; for Gilly reports to Selwyn (who was in Paris) : 
" Harrington's man was hanged last Wednesday. The dog 
died game, went in the cart in a blue and gold frock, and, as 
an emblem of innocence, had a white cockade in his hat. "He 
ate several oranges in his passage, enquired if his hearse was 
ready, and then, as old Rowe used to say, was launched into 
Eternity." Henry St John, brother of Frederick, Lord Boling- 
broke, also attended this execution, and wrote to Selwyn : 
" What served to encourage my writing was the curiosity which 
you expressed to hear of Waistcott's [Wisket, the porter's] 
execution, which my brother and I went to see at the risk of 
breaking our necks by climbing up an old rotten scaffolding, 
which I feared would tumble before the cart drove off with the 
six malefactors. However, we escaped and had a full view of 
Mr Waistcott, who went to the gallows with a white cockade in 
his hat, as an emblem of his innocence, and died with the same 
hardness as appeared through his trial." It is hardly necessary, 
perhaps, to explain away Selwyn's "curiosity" about this 
execution. Were not the letters of his friends full of references 
to an event which interested the whole town? And it is 
amusing to note how eager some of these friends were to assure 
Selwyn that they only patronised executions so that they 
might satisfy his "curiosity." "Hullo! Here's a hanging," 
they seemed to say, with the engaging air of Mr Wemmick ; 
" let's go and see it, and describe it to George." 

Selwyn appears to have been interested in two other well- 
known criminal cases. One was that of the Kennedys, which 
excited considerable attention in its day. Two brothers, 
Matthew and Patrick Kennedy, were indicted on the 2$rd of 
February 1770, for the wilful murder of John Bigby, a watch- 
man, in a riot on Westminster Bridge ; of which offence, after 
an eight hours' trial, they were convicted and sentenced to 
be executed on the Monday following. But on that morning 
an order was received for the respite of the prisoners, and they 
were informed that the sentence had been commuted to trans- 
portation for life. But observe the working of our beautiful 
criminal law. On the pardon being reported to the Privy 
Council, Lord Mansfield objected, and Matthew Kennedy was 
again ordered for execution. Upon this George Selwyn him- 



THE MORBID SELWYN 137 

self waited upon the King, who, on hearing from Selwyn that 
his pardon had actually been promised by the Secretary of 
State, Lord Rochford, again commuted the sentence. This, 
however, was not nearly the end of the matter. Matthew was 
actually on board ship on his way to a penal colony when the 
widow of Bigby lodged a fresh appeal against the brothers at the 
Old Bailey, and both Patrick and Matthew were once more 
brought before the court. Matthew was described as appearing 
" in double chains, in a blue coat, with a handkerchief about his 
neck, and looking greatly dejected." Among the persons on 
the bench were Lord Spencer, Lord Palmerston, George 
Selwyn, Esq., and "several persons of distinction, friends to 
the unhappy prisoners." Selwyn probably came in answer to 
a note from John St John (brother of Henry) informing him 
that " the widow of the watchman last night upon the breaking 
up of the Sessions, presented an appeal of murder against the 
Kennedys. I have been with Mr Wallace and others this 
morning, and make no doubt but that they have already 
defeated themselves in their conduct in this appeal, which is 
the most difficult matter to conduct of any in the law. I want 
very much to know where Matthew is at present and hope he 
is out of reach. I have sent to enquire." At the close of the 
hearing (on the 4th of July) the brothers were remanded till 
the next Sessions at the Old Bailey. 

Meanwhile the friends of the Kennedys were not idle. A 
copy of a Memorial to the King was found among Selwyn's 
papers, but with no signatures attached. It recommends to 
the royal clemency "the case of Matthew Kennedy, now 
ordered for execution," pointing out that "the fatal event 
happened, not from any corruption of mind, but a most 
unfortunate, not habitual, deprivation of sense and reason " : 
and further urging that Kennedy in fact did not give the fatal 
blow at all. There was " backstairs " influence used as well. 
Thus Horace Walpole in a note to Selwyn says : " Try privately, 
without talking of it, if you cannot get some of the ladies to 
mention the cruelty of the case ; or what do you think of a 
hint by the German women, if you can get at them ? " When 
the November Sessions came on, the Kennedys were again 
placed in the dock. But it then appeared that the widow had 
been " bought off," and had allowed the appeal to be dismissed. 



138 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

"When she went to receive the money [350]," says The 
Gentleman's Magazine, " she wept bitterly, and at first refused 
to touch the money that was to be the price of her husband's 
blood ; but being told that nobody else could receive it for 
her, she held up her apron, and bid the attorney, who was to 
pay it, sweep it into her lap." One would have thought that 
now at least the Kennedys would have heard definitely their 
fate. But no. " Mr St John's compliments to Mr Selwyn ; 
would be infinitely obliged to him if he would be so kind as to 
remind Lord Rochford of the situation of the poor Kennedys, 
who are still in irons in the King's Bench, though all proceed- 
ings against one are entirely at an end ; the eldest having had 
a free pardon made out for him before the appeal was brought 
against him, and the youngest having suffered an additional 
year's imprisonment." At length, in April 1771, after eighteen 
months of misery and suspense, the Kennedys appeared for 
the last time at the Old Bailey, and were informed that their 
punishment had been commuted, Matthew to transportation 
for life, Patrick for fourteen years. Patrick was afterwards 
pardoned. The Earl of Fife visited Matthew on the convict 
ship and gave Selwyn a pathetic description of what he saw 
there. " I went on board, and to be sure, all the states of 
horror I ever had an idea of are much short of what I saw this 
poor man in; chained to a board, in a hole not above 16 feet 
long ; more than fifty with him ; a collar and a padlock about 
his neck, and chained to five of the most dreadful creatures I 
ever looked on. What pleasure I had to see all the irons 
taken offhand to put him under the care of a very humane 
captain, one Macdougal, who luckily is my countryman, and 
connected with people I had done some little service to! He 
will be of great service to Kennedy ; in short, I left this poor 
creature, who has suffered so much, in a perfect state of happiness. 
I am thus tedious, because I know you will be glad to hear 
that his afflictions are over, as I am sure the poor man will 
succeed and do well. Pray do all you can to obtain the pardon 
of the other. Methinks, as Matthew has been at least four 
times hanged, it may satisfy for the crime alleged against the 
two. If you make any contribution, I humbly think it should 
be very private. What is laid out for this man to-day I insist 
on being by myself, for I never in my life, had a more ample 



THE MORBID SELWYN 139 

return for money." Here at least is a letter which did " infinite 
honour to the feelings " of the writer. 

One point connected with the Kennedys remains to be 
noticed. George Selwyn evidently took the keenest interest in 
the case, and did perhaps more than any other man to help 
the unfortunate brothers. And why? Certainly not from any 
"morbid interest" in criminals. The flippant critic might 
indeed remark that that should have stayed his hand. One, 
and perhaps the principal reason, is on the surface : Selwyn 
helped the Kennedys because he had a kind heart and was 
genuinely touched by their distress. But alas ! there were 
many such tragedies in those days of a brutal criminal law, 
and Selwyn and his friends could not be expected to interfere 
in every case. No doubt public attention was drawn in 
the newspapers to the outrageous treatment of the Kennedys. 
But Junius has given us a hint as to why Selwyn's set took 
the matter up. The Kennedys had a pretty sister, who was 
" no better than she ought to have been," and it is said that 
her brothers owed their lives to the efforts she made with 
her paramours on their behalf. " The mercy," says Junius 
brutally, "of a chaste and pious prince extended cheerfully 
to a wilful murderer, because that murderer is the brother of 
a " let us omit the ugly word " would, I think, at any other 
time, have excited universal indignation." 1 On this we need 
only say that, honest woman or not, Miss Kennedy deserves 
our admiration for the splendid and plucky fight she made for 
her brothers. Following the leading case of Mary Magdalene, 
much should be forgiven her quia multum amavit. Selwyn, 
of course, was not one of her lovers. But Mr St John 
judging from a passage in a letter from Lord Grantham to 
Selwyn probably was ; and it was he who enlisted Selwyn's 
powerful aid in the movement on behalf of the Kennedys. 

The other criminal case in which Selwyn took some interest 
was that of Dr Dodd. Everybody has heard of this pious 
humbug and forger : everybody, at least, who has read Boswell, 
and most sensible people have done that. " Led astray from 

Horace Walpole confirms this suggestion; indeed states explicitly 
that George Selwyn interfered in the Kennedy affair to oblige two of his 
friends who kept the young lady. A fine portrait of Miss Kennedy, by 
Sir Joshua Reynolds, is now in Mr Waldorf Astor's possession, at Cliveden. 



140 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

religious strictness by the delusion of show, and the delights of 
voluptuousness " the hand is the hand of Dodd, but the voice 
is the voice of Johnson Dr Dodd forged a bond in the name 
of Lord Chesterfield for 4200. He was tried and condemned 
to be executed ; and though heaven and earth were moved to 
obtain a reprieve (the expression is apt enough when we re- 
member that numerous prayers were put up for him by his 
brother clergy, and that the city of London petitioned the 
King on his behalf) the reprieve was refused by the King in 
Council. Hanging was of course a dreadful punishment for 
writing another man's name to a bond ; but, since hanging was 
the punishment, posterity can affirm with a clear conscience 
that Dodd was an eminently suitable person to hang. The 
law made no mistake upon this occasion. The execution took 
place on 7th June 1777. On his way to the gallows, happening 
to approach the street where he formerly lived, he was so much 
affected as to shed tears. But it was weakness, he said, and 
not cowardice that overwhelmed him ; and he added : " I hope I 
am going to a better home ! " George Selwyn was at Matson 
at this time (it is curious how many famous "exits" he missed 
by being out of London), and asked Anthony Storer to give 
him an account of the execution. " Upon the whole," wrote 
Storer, " the piece was not very full of events. The Doctor, to 
all appearance, was rendered perfectly stupid from despair. 
His hat was flapped all round, and pulled over his eyes, which 
were never directed to any object around, nor even raised, 
except now and then lifted up in the course of his prayers. 
He came in a coach, and a very heavy shower of rain fell just 
upon his entering the cart, and another just at his putting on 
the night-cap. He was a considerable time in praying, which 
some people standing about seemed rather tired with : they 
wished for some more interesting part of the tragedy. The 
wind which was high, blew off his hat, which rather embarrassed 
him, and discovered to us his countenance, which we could 
scarcely see before. . . . He then put on his night-cap himself, 
and upon his taking it he certainly had a smile on his counten- 
ance, and very soon afterwards there was an end of all his hopes 
and fears on this side the grave." Dodd "would not suffer 
his legs to be pulled," and his body was hurried away to a 
house in the city, where some friendly doctors tried in vain to 



THE MORBID SELWYN 141 

restore animation. Selwyn was evidently quite satisfied with 
Storer's account of the matter, for Storer writes a week or two 
later : " I can scarcely flatter myself, notwithstanding I have 
your word for it, that mine could give you any sort of satisfac- 
tion. . . . But as I wish to get this scene out of my mind, you 
will excuse me if I do not dwell upon it. I agree with you 
perfectly, that after one's curiosity is satisfied, an impression 
remains that I had rather be without." Selwyn had apparently 
confessed to Storer that he had a " curiosity " as to what took 
place at Dodd's execution. But who was not " curious " about 
Dr Dodd ? Did not the Countess of Huntingdon intercede for 
him? And Lord Percy present a petition to his Majesty? 
And Dr Johnson write a " Last Solemn Declaration " and a 
number of other documents for the criminal? It would have 
been strange indeed if Selwyn, down in Gloucestershire, had 
not showed some curiosity about the last moments of the Rev. 
William Dodd. 

Such, then, is George Selwyn's record as a person with 
morbid and mortuary tastes. He was present at two State 
executions on Tower Hill ; he desired his friends to keep him 
informed as to certain other and almost equally famous execu- 
tions at Tyburn ; and he is the hero of a score of club anecdotes, 
chronicled, for the most part, by the veracious Horace Walpole. 
We must also allow, of course, that for most of his life he was 
chaffed unmercifully by his friends upon the point. But good- 
humoured chaff of this kind is one thing ; the solemn affirma- 
tions of post-mortem biographers are quite another. How are 
we to explain the origin and the persistence of this legend 
about Selwyn? Dr Warner, in his letter to The Gentleman's 
Magazine, was the first to suggest an explanation which has 
the air of probability. " I shall content myself with informing 
you," he writes, " that this idle but wide-spread idea of his being 
fond of executions (of which he never in his life attended but 
one, and that rather accidentally from its lying in his way, and 
not from design) arose from the pleasantries which it pleased 
Sir Charles Hanbury Williams and the then Lord Chesterfield 
to propagate, from that one attendance, for the amusement of 
their common friends." This suggestion has been scouted by 
various solemn owls of editors, but it very probably comes near 
to the truth. Selwyn's " morbid passion " was a club joke, and 



142 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

nothing more. It was hatched in White's by "the boys," 
perhaps on George's return from the execution on Tower Hill, 
and was industriously circulated by the eavesdropping Walpole. 
No doubt the joke was carried very far too far in Selwyn's 
opinion, and was exceedingly stale before it was finally em- 
balmed as a biographical fact. But this was entirely owing to 
the fatal good-nature of Selwyn, who didn't mind the laugh 
being against himself. Once or twice, however, the worm 
turned. In 1777, for example, was published " The Diaboliad," 
a satirical poem, by Mr W. Combe. This was the kind of 
" poem " which a thousand gentlemen could write with ease in 
the days of the Georges. It was in rhymed couplets, which 
went on and on with relentless persistency until the author got 
tired. The story of " The Diaboliad " was that the devil wished 
to nominate a successor for the throne of hell, and sent his 
messengers to London to find him. They come to the West 
End, and on their appearance : 

" Pigeons are left unplucked, the game unplayed, 
And F(ox) forgets the certain Bett he made, 
E'en S(e)l(wy)n feels ambition fire his breast, 
And leaves, half-told, the fabricated jest." 

The candidates come down to hell and appear before the 
devil to urge their claims. All the noted men of pleasure 
attend : Fox, and Pembroke, and Beauchamp, and the rest. 
Selwyn is among them ; but Mr Combe lets him off very 
lightly : 

"The murmurs hushed, the Herald straight proclaimed 
S 1 n the witty next in order named, 
But he was gone to hear the dismal yells 
Of tortured ghosts and suffering criminals. 
Tho' summoned thrice, he chose not to return, 
Charmed to behold the crackling Culprits burn, 
With George, all know ambition must give place 
When there's an execution in the case." 

As will be observed, Mr Combe had a pretty wit. He had 
also a sneaking regard for George Selwyn. " I would not," he 
adds in a note, " be guilty of injustice to any character. George 
does not want humanity. Nay! he has an uncommon portion 



THE MORBID SELWYN 143 

of this Virtue ; it extends even to the gallows, and is well known 
to have bedewed his cheeks with tears at the lamentable fate 
of that pious personage called Sixteen Stringed Jack. And I 
may venture to assert that he never saw a man hanged in his 
life but when the sport was over he would have been really 
happy to have restored him to life. It requires a kind of 
knowledge which everybody does not possess to reconcile the 
apparent contradictions in the human character. . . . All the 

world knows that Mr S is attached to gaming, and that 

when he games, he wishes to win. And there are many will 
tell you that this love of play, when it has taken root, becomes 
the leading, if not the sole, propensity of the human breast. 
But in the character before us there is an evident example of 
two leading propensities in the same mind, which upon certain 
occasions form a spirit of accomodation and blend with each 
other. This very gentleman, though he had made a very con- 
siderable bett that he should not be at a certain execution, was 
nevertheless discovered to be actually present at the spectacle 
dressed like an old woman, in a Joseph and bonnet, and seated 
on horseback, etc. etc. This is a twofold irresistible propensity ! 
Nevertheless, George is a man of humanity." The reader will 
notice here the original of Wraxall's story about Selwyn 
appearing at executions " in female dress." 

Now it happens that we have Selwyn's own comment upon 
" The Diaboliad," which is at the same time a defence against the 
charge we are discussing. Writing to Lord Carlisle, Selwyn 
said : " The author of a new Grub Street poem, I see, allows me 
a great share of feeling, at the same time that he relates facts 
of me which, if they were true, would, besides making me 
ridiculous, call very much into question what he asserts with 
any reasonable man. . . . The work I mean is called 'The 
Diaboliad.' His hero is Lord Evesham. Lord Hertford and 
Lord Beauchamp are the chief persons whom he loads with 
his invectives. ... I am only attacked upon that trite and 
very foolish opinion concerning le pene ed i delitti, acknowledg- 
ing [it] to proceed from an odd and insatiable curiosity, and 
not from a mauvais cceur. In some places I think there is 
versification and a few good lines, and the piece seems to be 
written by one not void of parts, but who, with attention, might 
write much better. I forgive him his mention of me, because I 



believe that he does it without malice, but if I had leisure to 
think of such things, I must own the frequent repetition of the 
foolish stories would make me peevish." Someone in the 
columns of that invaluable periodical, Notes and Queries^ has 
referred to this defence as inadequate. But is it inadequate ? 
"You are kind enough to call me a man of feeling," says 
Selwyn, in effect. " What sort of feeling should I have if these 
stories were true?" This defence seems not only adequate, 
but proper : it is the right thing to say. Anything further said, 
either by Selwyn or by an admirer of Selwyn, would surely be 
in the nature of a glimpse into the obvious. 

And yet there is one further thing which might be said by 
way of conclusion. Granted that Selwyn's " fondness for ex- 
ecutions " was a foolish fable, the stoutest defender of Selwyn 
must still admit that he was the kind of man concerning whom 
such a fable might easily arise. A recent writer has expressed 
the opinion that something " sinister " hangs around the name 
of George Selwyn. Now " sinister " is an ugly word, indeed 
a terrible word ; and one cannot but think that in this instance 
it is misapplied. Sombre George Selwyn certainly was ; at 
bottom he was a melancholy man. But his sombreness and 
melancholy had nothing evil in them ; they sprang from no 
corruption within. You cannot read his letters and the letters 
of his friends and believe otherwise. Yet since he was (and 
looked) melancholy, and a little sarcastic, and too lazy to 
trouble much about what people thought of him, it is natural 
enough that queer legends such as that which we have been 
discussing should gather round him as the years went on. A 
man has no business to look as if he enjoyed hangings and 
funerals. If he does he must take the consequences. 



CHAPTER IX 

SELWYN AS M.P. 

WE must now go back a little, and take up the thread 
of George Selwyn's life where we dropped it in 
the fourth chapter. Not that chronological order 
matters much in Selwyn's case. His life was, on the whole, 
eventless : it had few dates of any great importance. But 
perhaps 1747, when he first entered the House of Commons, 
was one of these. For Selwyn was a genuine House of 
Commons man. He sat there for the long period of three 
and forty years ; he heard (or slept through) nearly all the 
principal debates during that time ; he voted stolidly for one 
hardly knows how many successive ministries. To think of 
this is to realise what a profoundly interesting parliamentary 
career Selwyn's was, or might have been. Only the antithetical 
style of Macaulay could do justice to it. Failing that, let us at 
least remember that Selwyn sat in the same house with William 
Pitt the elder and Henry Fox, and heard both these great men 
in their prime ; heard the early speeches of their sons also, 
and lived to take his last and most lucrative sinecure from the 
hand of William Pitt the younger, and to call his once good 
friend Charles James Fox "Mr Fox"; saw England win an 
empire under Chatham, and lose another empire under North ; 
was mobbed by patriots in the legendary days of Wilkes ; was 
" ill-treated " according to himself by at least two Prime 
Ministers ; found " Bourk " a very civil person until the Irish- 
man took to depriving decent people of their places : what, in 
those forty years, did Selwyn not see, and whom did he not 
know, in the world of politics? If he had kept a diary, it 
would have been a precious document that is to say, if he had 
kept it on the principle of Mr Pepys, or on the principle of Mr 
Boswell. It is not likely, however, that he would have followed 
in the footsteps of either of these eminent men. For years he 
wrote an almost daily letter to Lord Carlisle, and his political 
jottings in this correspondence are not encouraging. " Cursed 

K 145 



146 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

tiresome debate," says he, on one evening ; on another, " Charles 
spoke well." Perhaps George's diary would not have been 
quite the kind of book we want. But a diary written by some- 
body who had the gifts of Boswell and the advantages of 
Selwyn ! This does not bear thinking about overmuch. 

George Selwyn came of a parliamentary family. His father, 
John Selwyn, was M.P. for Truro in 1714-1715, for Whitchurch 
(Hants) in 1727, and for Gloucester city from 1734 until his 
death in 1751. His uncle, Major Charles Selwyn, was M.P. for 
the borough of St Michael in 1722, for Gloucester city in 1727, 
and for Ludgershall in 1741. This uncle (who, by the way, mar- 
ried Maria Hyde, a kinswoman of James II.'s Queen) made 
one speech in Parliament which had the honour of being 
"reported" in The Gentleman's Magazine in 1746, and which 
was afterwards published as a pamphlet. It contains nothing 
of any importance or distinction ; but it does call William Pitt 
" a sordid orator." The Selwyns were good judges of the sordid. 
Then John Selwyn, jun., was M.P. for Whitchurch from 1734 
until his death in 1751. George Selwyn entered the House in 
1747 as M.P. for Ludgershall, 1 his colleague being his uncle, 
Thomas Farrington. Ludgershall is a little village in Wiltshire, 
south of Savernake Forest, and not far from Salisbury Plain. 
Once upon a time it was a place of some importance, with a 
substantial Norman castle. But long before George Selwyn's 
day its importance, like its castle, had vanished. Nothing was 
left of the castle but a few stones ; there was a market-place 
with a cross in it ; there were a few poor houses with lands 
attached. But one enormously valuable privilege it still re- 
tained : the right, namely, of returning two members to the 
House of Commons. John Selwyn purchased this right, 
together with the lordship of the manor, at some time before 
the General Election of 1734, and Ludgershall became the 
Selwyns' "pocket-borough." Pocket-boroughs had their ad- 
vantages. Thus you had none of the wear and tear of a con- 
tested election : no hustings, no speeches, no mobs. If there 
were any voters (and there were some at Ludgershall) you 

1 Selwyn spelt this word " Ludgarshall," " Luggershall," and " Ludgers- 
hall," with a fine impartiality. "Ludgarshall" would appear to be ety- 
mologically correct, since the place is called after a Saxon personage 
named Lutegar: But the spelling in the text is the modern one. 



SELWYN AS M.P. 147 

requested them politely to return your candidate to Parliament, 
and they did so, thinking they had no option in the matter. 
Or you made an ad hoc assignment of property to your steward 
and your gardener and your footman, who thus became free 
and independent burgesses, and did their duty on the polling 
day. Or, happiest of all conceivable cases, you might own a 
borough without a single house or a single burgess : the classic 
case of old Sarum. There the procedure was of the simplest. 
The steward came down one afternoon, erected a tent under a 
spacious elm-tree, and nominated William Pitt, Esq., as 
parliamentary candidate for the ancient borough of Old Sarum. 
No rival candidate appearing, William Pitt, Esq., was de- 
clared duly elected, and the thing was done. Halcyon days 
these for nervous candidates. But how many other privileges 
did pocket-boroughs not possess ? You could put your sons or 
other relatives into them, as George Selwyn did ; or you could 
dispose of them for a consideration, as George Selwyn did more 
than once ; or, if you were truly patriotic, or had a lively antici- 
pation of favours to come, you could put the seat at the disposal 
of the Prime Minister, as again was the case with George 
Selwyn. Consider for a moment the history of Ludgershall 
in the Selwyn period. Here is a list of its members from 1741 
to 1791 : 



1741 
1747 
1754 
1761 



/Major Charles Selwyn 
\Thomas Hayward 


1774 


/Lord Melbourne 
\Lord George Gordon 


/George A. Selwyn 
\Thomas Farrington 


1780 


fG. A. Selywn 
\Lord Melbourne 


f Sir John Bland 
\Thomas Hayward 


1784 


/G. A. Selwyn 
\Sir N. W. Wraxall 


/Thomas Whately 
\John Paterson 


1790 


/G. A. Selwyn 
\W. B. Harbord 


, Q ("Lord Garlics 







\Penistone Lamb, first Lord Melbourne 



Thus George Selwyn himself sat for Lugershall in four 
Parliaments ; three of his uncles had each a turn ; and the 
rest were strangers. But the strangers mostly paid for the 



148 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

privilege. Thus it was said that in 1768 George Selwyn got 
no less than ^9000 for the double seat. This may well have 
been so ; for though in that year the Duke of Grafton desired 
Selwyn to nominate for the seat two ministerialists, Lord 
Garlics and Lord Melbourne, and though Selwyn immediately 
(was not Grafton Prime Minister ?) complied, it is more than 
probable that both Garlics and Melbourne paid well for 
their seats. " I will nominate Garlics and Melbourne," said 
Selwyn in effect, "but my price is so-and-so." Certainly 
Selwyn had no liking for either of the two men ; " I pity you 
at being obliged to re-elect Garlics," wrote Henry St John 
to him at this time ; " it is troublesome to repeat these things 
often." And two years later Selwyn writes a curious letter 
to Lord North, protesting that, though he had returned 
Garlics and Melbourne in 1768, he was under no obligation 
to fill any future vacancy up, except at his own option. 
Nevertheless, he allowed Lord Melbourne to sit for Ludgershall 
again in 1774 and in 1780. Why? Surely because he paid for 
the seat. In 1782 that ungrateful peer deserted Selwyn's 
politics (and North's), and began to coquet with the Opposition. 
Selwyn was angry and protested ; but Melbourne only laughed 
at him, and went about telling everybody that he could do 
what he liked, for he had bought the seat. Whereupon Selwyn 
wrote to Carlisle : " He says that he purchased the seat at 
Luggershall. It is a falsehood. If he did, he has not paid 
the money he ought for it ; but both Lord N[orth] and Robinson 
have acted in this, towards me, in the most scandalous manner 
in the world, and I will inform the K[ing] of it myself by 
an audience, if I can find no other means of doing it. I warned 
Lord North over and over again of this supercherie. I knew 
his intention, and he was so weak as to neglect this means 
of pinning this fitz scrivener, fitz coachman, this fitz cook, 
to his word, and putting it in his power to use me in this 
manner, as if he had bought of me a seat in Parliament, which 
no man living ever did, but the King himself." An equivocal 
defence this. Would it be unfair to deduce from it that the 
" fitz-scrivener " did pay a certain sum for the seat, and that the 
balance was to be taken by Selwyn in the form of a " place " 
from Lord North, which the Prime Minister callously omitted 
to provide for him? Whether this be the true explanation 



SELWYN AS M.P. 149 

of the transaction or not, we know at least that George Selwyn 
was not the man to give away a valuable seat in Parliament. 
There was always a something in exchange, we may be sure. 

Selwyn entered Parliament at a peculiarly interesting time 
politically. The "long Walpolian struggle" was over; Sir 
Robert, beaten, but not disgraced, had retired as the Earl 
of Orford to the obscurity of the House of Lords. The 
Pulteneys and the Sandys and the Carterets had tried to 
govern in his stead, and had failed dismally. Then came 
the " Broad-Bottom " administration Newcastle and Pelham, 
and Fox and Pitt ; and it was when this Government was 
in office that Selwyn first entered the House. As it happened, 
the times were quiet. For six years, from 1748 to 1754, there 
was peace both at home and abroad. What was the House of 
Commons like in those years ? It cannot have been altogether 
dull. Henry Fox was there, the greatest of all debaters 
excepting his own son ; Pitt, too, splendid in declamation, 
the tribune of the people ; and Selwyn might listen as often 
as he liked to the " clear, placid, mellow " oratory of Murray. 
No, the Commons was not dull. And then there was always 
Newcastle to be studied in another place. Surely Selwyn, 
a shrewd enough observer of human nature, must have de- 
lighted in the Duke of Newcastle ! Horace Walpole did, and 
has left us many a laughable sketch of that gentleman. Well, 
the Duke was never anything but childish, and futile, and 
ridiculous ; but somehow, one can't help liking him. Selwyn 
certainly liked him : but then Newcastle was an old friend 
of the Selwyn family. Did he not mildly rebuke John Selwyn 
once for burning tallow candles at dinner? " Dear John," says 
he, " if you will burn tallow, pray snuff your candles." I like 
that little anecdote of the Duke. John Selwyn wrote many 
a letter to him, which you may read in the Newcastle papers 
at the British Museum. 1 And Mrs John, George's mother, 
had her correspondence with this family friend : 2 but only 
to ask a living for a clerical relative. The incumbent of such- 
and-such a place was very ill actually on his death-bed ; and 
would the Duke kindly remember that Mr C. Selwyn was 
an amiable and earnest young person, in every way fitted 

1 Add. MSS. 32689, etc. 

2 Add. MSS. 32991. 



150 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

for the post? It must have been pleasant enough for George 
Selwyn to enter the House under the aegis of this absurd old 
man. 

The eighteenth - century House of Commons, like the 
eighteenth-century Oxford, is somewhat difficult for us modern 
men to realise. Is not the Long Parliament, with its bubbling 
political life, its soaring private members, nearer to us than this 
first Parliament of George Selwyn's ? Under Mr Pelham and 
the Duke the private member dozed his time away happily on 
the back benches. He had no political enthusiasms, and he 
never made speeches (George Selwyn probably never made a 
speech, except upon a private Bill, in all the forty-three years 
of his life in Parliament). Why should he? There was Mr 
Fox, and Mr Pitt, and Mr Murray, to do that The private 
member's duty was to eat his dinner and drink his port, and 
serve on a committee occasionally, and vote steadily with his 
party. It was a lazy life, nor did the habits of the House make 
for strenuousness. It met early, twelve o'clock, and seldom rose 
later than nine or ten ; time enough for George Selwyn and his 
friends to get back to White's for supper and a game of picquet. 
Conceive the aspect of the House, with Henry Fox and William 
Pitt on the Government Front Bench, and the jolly, port-drinking 
country members behind them : nobody of distinction on the 
Opposition benches. We are talking of 1747, or thereabouts. 
True it is that we have no contemporary description of the 
House at this time ; the art of descriptive reporting had not yet 
been invented. But thirty years or so afterwards a German 
pastor, the Rev. Karl Moritz, visited England, and wrote 
down his impressions, in letters to a friend. They are very 
interesting letters, as letters always are when people write 
down simply and clearly what they see. Mr Moritz visited 
the House of Commons, and was delighted with it. It was 
no longer Henry Fox's and William Pitt the elder's House 
when Mr Moritz came to it ; but it was still George Selwyn's : 
I like to think that Moritz actually saw Selwyn there, as 
he saw Charles James Fox. But if we read the German's 
letter we shall have a very fair idea of the House of Commons 
as Selwyn knew it. It was "rather a mean-looking build- 
ing, that not a little resembles a chapel. The Speaker, 
an elderly man with an enormous wig, with two knotted 



SELWYN AS M.P. 151 

kind of tresses or curls behind, in a black cloak, his hat 
on his head, sat opposite to me on a lofty chair ; which was 
not unlike a small pulpit." Moritz goes on to describe the 
arrangement of the House with its benches "covered with 
green cloth, always one above the other, like our chairs in 
churches. . . . The members of the House of Commons have 
nothing particular in their dress ; they even come into the 
House in their great coats, and with boots and spurs. It is not 
at all uncommon to see a member lying stretched out on one 
of the benches while others are debating. Some crack nuts, 
others eat oranges, or whatever else is in season. There is no 
end to their going in and out." Moritz was lucky enough to hear 
Charles Fox speak. " Fox," says he, " was sitting on the right 
of the Speaker not far from the table on which the gilt sceptre 
lay. He now took his place so near it that he could reach it 
with his hand, and there placed, he gave it many a violent and 
hearty thump, either to aid, or to show, the energy with which 
he spoke. ... It is impossible for me to describe with what 
fire and persuasive eloquence he spoke, and .how the Speaker in 
the chair incessantly nodded approbation from beneath his 
solemn wig ; and innumerable voices incessantly called out, hear 
him ! hear him ! and when there was the least sign that he 
intended to leave off speaking they no less vociferously ex- 
claimed go on ! ; and so he continued to speak in this manner for 
nearly two hours." The good German said that if he had seen 
nothing else in England than this, he would have thought his 
journey thither "amply rewarded." We must all be of the 
same opinion. Anyhow, it was in this " mean-looking building," 
among the booted and spurred country members, the crackers 
of nuts and the eaters of oranges, among the Foxes, and Pitts 
and Burkes and Rigbys, that George Selwyn sat (and slept) 
during so many years. Think of this next time you walk 
through the corridor to the Central Hall at Westminster, 
and note on the floor the brass rods marking the position of 
the table which Charles Fox thwacked so violently and so 
often. 

George Selwyn sat for Ludgershall for seven years the 
full space of one Parliament. It is very probable that, on his 
father's death in 1751, he might have become junior member 
for Gloucester if he had so chosen. John Selwyn had been 



152 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

M.P. for that borough for seventeen years, and had won the 
respect and esteem of the good citizens of Gloucester in that 
time. After his death in November 1751, a deputation from 
the Corporation of Gloucester waited upon George Selwyn in 
London, " to consult with you concerning a representative for 
our city in the room of your dear and ever honoured father." 
One of the deputation, by the way, was Mr Gabriel Harris, 
Alderman of Gloucester, then and always a good friend of the 
Selwyn family. We do not know what answer George Selwyn 
(at. thirty-two, and a scapegrace) returned to the respectable 
deputation; but it was not until the General Election of 1754 
that he himself became member for Gloucester city, his colleague 
being Mr Charles Barrow. He was re-elected in 1755 on 
becoming Paymaster of the Works. George began his career 
as M.P. for Gloucester with all the omens favourable. His 
family was well known in the city ; his father had been im- 
mensely popular ; and he himself was not disliked. The 
historian is therefore grieved to have to announce that George's 
parliamentary connection with Gloucester was anything but 
untroubled. During the first Parliament, from 1754 till 1761, 
he seems to have had no difficulty with his constituents, and he 
was re-elected in 1761 without opposition. But in 1768 all 
this was changed. For some reason or other, George had lost 
his popularity, and was in imminent danger of losing his seat. 
Can we account for this sad state of things? It is not very 
difficult to do so. We shall come to his politics in a moment ; 
but here it may be said that George Selwyn was a thick-and- 
thin Government man, a contemner of Wilkes and liberty, a 
fervent supporter of the privileges of the Crown. Now there 
was always a good deal of sturdy radicalism in Gloucester, even 
from the days of the Commonwealth. The good burgesses 
were loyal and law-abiding ; but they admired John Wilkes, 
and thought that patriot a sadly persecuted man. Above all, 
they " had their feelings," which George Selwyn steadily refused 
to consider. He was essentially an aristocrat, who regarded 
constituents as necessary nuisances ; nasty, factious people, who 
unfortunately had votes, and things of that sort, and who must 
therefore have some little attention paid them. Now an M.P. 
of this type may be very virtuous, but he is bound in time to 
achieve unpopularity ; and he invariably complains bitterly 



SELWYN AS M.P. 153 

when the storm breaks. The storm broke upon Selwyn at the 
General Election of 1768. 

The first sign of the storm was the appearance of a third 
candidate in the field, who began vigorously to canvass the 
city against Selwyn. If this person had been a lord, or a 
member of a county family, the thing would not have been so 
bad. But he was a low tradesman, a timber merchant. Con- 
ceive the just indignation of Mr George Selwyn and his friends 
at White's. " I am heartily sorry my dear George," writes 
Gilly Williams, with true sympathy, " that this damned 
carpenter has made matters so serious with you." There seems 
to have been something peculiarly exasperating to Selwyn's 
circle in the connection this poor gentleman had with the 
timber trade. " I was very sorry to find by your last " (writes 
Carlisle from Turin) " you had an opposition at Gloucester. 
Why did you not set his timber yard a-fire ? What can a man 
mean, who has not an idea separated from the foot-square of a 
Norway deal plank, by desiring to be in Parliament ? " That 
was the way they looked at it. Well, Selwyn won the seat 
again. In the immortal words of Gilly Williams, he "gave the 
carpenter a duster" ; but it was after a tremendous battle, in 
which Alderman Harris performed prodigies of valour. (Selwyn 
took no risks, however. He got himself nominated and returned 
for the Wigtown Boroughs, a pocket-borough belonging to Lord 
Garlics' family, but elected to sit for Gloucester.) And there 
was other help besides that of Mr Harris ; for Selwyn called in 
the powerful aid of Lord Hardwicke to redress the balance 
between himself and the carpenter. " My Lord," writes Selwyn 
to Hardwicke in March I/68, 1 " I have been acquainted by 
Mr Pitt [of Gloucester] of your Lordship's obliging commands 
to him to exert your interest here in favour of Mr Barrow and 
myself. I return your Lordship a great many thanks for that 
favour, and have the honour to be, with very great respect, 
your lordship's most obedient and most humble servant, 
G. Selwyn." Mr Barrow thanked his lordship in similar 
strain. If this were all it would hardly be worth mentioning. 
But it is not all. Fortunately we have Mr John Pitt's letter to 
the Earl of Hardwicke, 2 which sheds an amusing side-light 

1 Brit: Mus. Add. MSSi 35608, f. 142. 

2 Brit. Mus, Add. MSS. 35608, f. 140. 



154 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

upon the causes of Selwyn's unpopularity in Gloucester, as well 
as upon the management of an election in those Georgian days. 
Hardwicke has notified his pleasure to Mr John Pitt that his 
Gloucester tenants should vote for Mr Selwyn and Mr Barrow. 
Mr John Pitt replies : " I sent over to two of your Lordship's 
tenants who are all that are free, and waited with them on Mr 
Barrow and Mr Selwyn, and communicated to them your Lord- 
ship's commands." He goes on to say that he had long since 
made up his mind to vote for Mr Barrow only, and to leave his 
tenants free to vote as they pleased. A meeting was held which 
he (Pitt) did not attend. He was told if he " had been there and 
proposed Mr Guise, Mr Selwyn had never been in the nomina- 
tion." Proceeding, he explains his resentment against Selwyn : 
" Previous to the last election here I made use of the honor 
enjoined me of applying on all occasions to my late lord. His 
Lordship's commands were to assist Mr Selwyn and Mr Barrow, 
which I did in such a manner as to draw on me the resentment 
of the opposite party. They deputed some gentlemen of the 
law to acquaint me my interfering in the elections was subject- 
ing myself as a custom-house officer to ,500 penalty ; and if I 
proceeded I must expect to be sued. I answered that was about 
the sum I made by my place, and I was ready to forfeit it to 
the commands of the person I was indebted to for it, and ac- 
cordingly redoubled my spirit, and having 148 Tenants in the 
City, a great number of whom were free and of the poorer sort, 
I laid out and expended on them out of my own pocket near 
as much as Mr Selwyn's election stood him in. I took every 
opportunity of waiting on and obliging Mr Selwyn. I on no 
occasion put him to or suffered others to put him to any expense. 
I took no slight at his coolness towards me as I thought I dis- 
covered the cause. I expected, I wished for, no return from 
him and knew it was not in his power to make me any. I was 
paying a debt of gratitude I owed by purchasing an obligation 
to a higher gratitude. I was sure the title was good how 
wrongfully soever the enjoyment might be withheld. During the 
canvass while he was expressing his obligation to His Lordship 
on the one side, he could not restrain his reflections almost with 
the same breath on the other, with this difference that the one 
was poured out in private to me whilst the other was scattered 
over the whole city by being delivered in the hearing of the 



SELWYN AS M.P. 155 

whole Corporation of which his lordship was the honour and 
protector. For one evening at the Tolsey in company with the 
whole Corporation and the principal gentlemen of this City, a 
gentleman asking his opinion of the first advise sent by Sir 
Jos. York of the King of Prussia's Victory at Torgau, he 
answered that that news would have been looked on as extra- 
ordinary had it come from any other quarter than Sir Jos. 
Yorke, but he had amused the town with so many false in- 
telligences that he had rendered his name a proverb, as any- 
thing wild and not believed was called a Yorkism. I gave him 
a look, sat a little, and then took my hat and walked off. 
I immediately advised his lordship of it and received the en- 
closed answer on which I redoubled my assiduity and never 
discovered the least dissatisfaction, so that many were surprised 
at my sudden turn from Mr Selwyn and thought I was fallen 
into the opposite party. The present candidates are only the 
two old members and Cator [the " Carpenter "], all sanguine, 
but tho" the blow is aimed at Barrow yet the contest will lie 
between Selwyn and Cator. Barrow is secure and I think 
Selwyn will be the other member. I am, my lord, Your 
lordship's most obliged and dutifull humble servant, 

"JOHN PITT 
"GLO., ii Mar. 1768." 

Comment upon this delightful letter is needless. But does 
it not bring Selwyn out of the shades to see him at the 
Gloucester banquet, explaining what a " Yorkism " is, while 
that devoted follower of the house of Yorke, John Pitt, gives 
him a look and "walks off" in disgust? Hogarth should have 
painted that scene. Only he could have painted John Pitt 
giving Selwyn a look. 

The next election was in 1774. Selwyn passed through the 
same horrible pangs of doubt and anxiety concerning his seat 
as he had done in 1768. He put off his journey to Gloucester 
as long as possible. " My heart fails me," he writes, " as the 
time of my going to Gloucester approaches. . . . But there will 
[be] no trifling after the end of next week. . . . Then the judges 
will be met, a terrible show, for I shall be obliged to dine with 
them, and be in more danger from their infernal cooks than 
any of the criminals who are to be tried. How long I shall 



156 GEORGE' SELWYN AND THE WITS 

stay the lord knows, but I hope in God not more than ten days 
at furthest, for I find my aversion to that part of the world 
greater and more insuperable every day of my life." He 
reached Gloucester at last, and was" consoled for a few days 
by the presence of Horace Walpole. (He had only Raton, 
his dog, as company in the election of 1768.) He felt a 
" monstrous oppression of spirits," and had serious thoughts of 
"a total renunciation of Parliament, Ministers, and Boroughs" 
and " the emoluments attached to those connections." But he 
"opened his trenches" before the town "as one who intended to 
humbug them for one seven years more. 

" J'ignore le destin que le ciel me prepare 
Mais il est temps enfin qu' larbe se declare." 

He gave a dinner to the Corporation, made a speech (" which 
I am glad that nobody heard but themselves "), and prophesied, 
as a result, " a peaceable election." He was right. No third 
candidate troubled him upon this occasion, and on the 7th of 
October 1774, he was returned as M.P. for Gloucester for the 
fifth time. 

But he had accurately judged "the destiny which heaven 
had prepared for him," nevertheless, which was "to humbug 
the town for one seven years more," or still more accurately, 
for six. As the General Election of 1780 approached, Selwyn 
seems to have realised that he could not possibly hold the seat 
at Gloucester. He had sinned too deeply ever to be forgiven. 
There was the disgrace of the American War, of which Selwyn 
(mindful of his " places " and his negroes) had been a deter- 
mined supporter. Like Burke at the neighbouring city of 
Bristol, he had been " How-de-do'd " out of all hope of success 
at the election by an enterprising candidate, Mr Webb, while 
he, Selwyn, was attending to his parliamentary duties (and his 
"emoluments") in London. To be even more apt, while he 
slept, an enemy had been sowing tares. But the time came 
when he had once more " to engage in the bustles and disputes 
of that abominable town of Gloucester." He went down to 
Matson early in August, whence he writes to his nephew 
Charles Townshend on the 



1 Marsham-Townshend MSS. 






SELWYN AS M.P. 157 

" I thank you for letting me know your speculations in regard 
to the dissolution of Parliament. It seems to be very probable 
from what I observed before I left London as well as from 
what you have picked up lately. I shall not be sorry because I 
wish the uncertainty in which I live now, as to the event of the 
election here, was at an end and much of the preparatory 
trouble will be necessarily abridged. I intend to beat Luggers- 
hall on the day of that election if possible ; I believe the two 
candidates will be Lord Melbourne and myself. I hope that 
you will find or make for us a majority on the Poll and if you 
perform the same office anywhere else you may return whom 
you please. If they are factious they may represent who they 
will but they will very ill represent yourself. I thank you for 
wishing me out of my difficulties. The most oppressive one to 
me is that of breathing, I find my cough but very little better 
and my nights are the most uncomfortable in the world. I am 
the more dispirited because I have here no advice but that 
which I brought from London upon which I can depend. 
There are but two Apothecaries and they are both in opposi- 
tion to me. One is so violent that I cannot trust him to make 
up the medicine which Dr Robinson has prescribed, and the 
other is afraid of coming to my home lest he should give 
umbrage to his party. I was in hopes that change of air would 
supply the best of other remedies but it has done me as yet 
little good that I perceive. I must have patience. Mie Mie is 
much obliged to you for the remembrance of her. She likes 
Matson, which forces me to acquiesce in a longer stay than I 
should otherwise make among such factious people. I hope 
that in little more than three weeks I shall be released from 
them, and meet you at Luggershall, where the people are more 
united in their attachment to my interest. Pray write me 
a line now and then, I long to hear how things are likely to go 
in the West Indies, or more properly are gone. Yours most 
Affect*" 

Can you withhold your sympathy from this poor sick gentle- 
man, with both the available apothecaries in opposition ? On 
3 1st August he again writes i 1 

" I heard by express (but not from Government) that the dis- 
solution of the Parliament would be to-morrow. I was told by 
Robinson 2 before I left London that it was not then determined 
upon (which was a lie) and that when it would be determined 
upon that I should have notice of it (that is another) for he 
1 Marsham-Townshend MSS. 2 Lord North's secretaryi 



158 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

meant from himself. Instead of that I am to guess at it by a 
lettre de cachet, to desire me to remain a mes terres while a 
Conge d'Elire is sent to Gloucester to chose some candidate not 
yet fixed upon ; for Mr Stock an attorney here has employed 
an attorney there, to find out a candidate who is neither here 
nor there, and so at first Lord Fairford was agreed upon, with- 
out consulting either Lord North or Lord Hillsborough, then 
Mr Bearcroft the fat lawyer and then little Ho well the lean 
surgeon, and now they have nobody at all, and this to throw out 
by a coup de Baguette Mr Barrow who has established himself 
by an indefatigable attention for above thirty years in the good 
will of his constituents. I can neither be sorry or angry that he 
is chose, and he won't have been contented with that if he had 
not seen such strange supineness and inconsistency and weak- 
ness of all sorts as he has observed in the surviving part of my 
old friends of which he has taken an advantage. That I have 
kept my seat six and twenty years is much more astonishing 
than that I am obliged to resign it now. With a little more 
vigilence in the country among the few here who are attached 
to Government allways when they talk so by Government 
meaning themselves who would have been more active if the 
administration had supported them, this might have con- 
tinued in my hands one Parliamemt more, but so would my 
plague and trouble, a very little of which at my time of day is 
a great deal too much. I have not relinquished this in form 
nor shall I if I do not appear on the day of election as a 
Candidate. 

" Mr Barrow and Mr Webb must of course be chose, a canvass 
or a poll in my favour would only shew that my interest was 
lost beyond recovery and which my friends now will not admit. 
I have been very attentive since I came down here to all that 
has been said and have collected, I believe, the truth and from 
thence have taken my rest without difficulty or regret. I should 
have been sorry if any personal behaviour of my own had occa- 
sioned this, but as it is agreed on all sides that no objection lies 
to me but to my principles and situation in respect to Govern- 
ment and as these are what they always have been, and I hope 
always will be by whatever name they are qualified, so I am 
contented. I will meet you at Luggershall if you desire it, if 
you do not think it necessary, I will follow the humour I shall 
be in, some days hence. My cough is going more expeditiously 
than I expected, although there be still some remains of it. I 
do not know what accommodations I shall find at Luggershall 
for as I must be absent from hence, if I go, some days, I should 
like to take Mie Mie with me as it will not be a popular elec- 



SELWYN AS M.P. 159 

tion. ... I have had a letter to day from Warner who tells me 
of a rumour of very bad news of the Quebec fleet. 1 From your 
being silent about it, I am in hopes that there is no foundation 
for it. There has been enough lately for whoever wishes to 
throw a stone at administration and I hope not more than by 
other reprisals we shall recover. Warner says that he is to 
dine at neighbour Charles's to-morrow. I am sorry that I am 
not to be of the party. How long you are to have neighbour 
Warner I do not know. But the neighbourhood is a very 
commodious one for him. I received a letter from your sister 
Mary yesterday, wrote in very good spirits which I am glad of. 
I hope that another year, I shall have the pleasure of having 
some of the family here, if there comes any news, pray lett me 
know it. I am ever most affectionately yours." 

In another letter to Carlisle, Selwyn describes some of his 
experiences at this election, not without humour. " I wish to 
God that it was all at an end," says he. 

" ' What sin, to me unknown 

Dipped me in this, my father's or my own ? ' " 

The answer is, entirely his own. But Lord North and the 
Government seem to have bungled the business too. It was 
Selwyn's intention " to resign all thoughts of being a candidate 
at the next election " so he informed Lord North because he 
was ill, and it would cost money (which he couldn't spare) and, 
above all, " I have subjected myself to the humours of these 
people till I am quite tired of them." Lord North, however, 
appears to have persuaded him to stand, together with Sir 
Andrew Hammond, in the Government interest. The Opposition 
candidates were Mr Charles Barrow and Mr John Webb. Mr 
Webb issued his address to " the worthy Freemen of the city of 
Gloucester " in the St James's Chronicle of 5th-7th September 
1780. As an election address it is a model of brevity, com- 
bined with a judicious vagueness : 

"The sudden Dissolution of Parliament calls upon me to 
renew my Application to you for the Favour of your Votes and 
Interest at the approaching Election, and to assure you that as 
it is the Height of my Ambition to represent my Native City, so 
shall it be my constant Endeavour, if I have the Happiness to be 
Chosen, to discharge my Duty with the Strictest Fidelity to you, 
1 See Warner's Letter, Jesse, iv. 371. 



160 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

and the firmest attachment to the real Liberties of the Constitu- 
tion. I am, with great Respect, Gentlemen, your most obedient 
humble servant, JOHN WEBB 

" N.B. These gentlemen who have not taken up their free- 
dom, are desired to leave a State of their Claims, directed to Mr 
Samuel Jones, at Mr King's, the Merry Carpenter, in Old 
Street ; or at Mr Mathews, the Sun, in White Street, near St 
George's Church, Southward." 

So many freemen of Gloucester lived in London that it 
appears to have been worth the while of the candidates on both 
sides to make special efforts to secure the London vote. In the 
St James's Chronicle of the same date we read : " The friends of 
Mr Selwyn and Sir Andrew Hammond are requested to take 
notice that a committee is appointed, who meet every afternoon 
at seven o'clock, at the Rainbow Coffee- House, King Street, 
Covent Garden, to Consider of the means most effectual for 
obtaining success to these Gentlemen at the ensuing Election 
for the City of Gloucester; and every Well-wisher to their interest 
will be received at the said Committee." Selwyn's nephew 
Charles Townshend worked indefatigably for him in London. 
On the 5th of September he " dined " the Gloucester freemen at 
the White Hart, in Bishopsgate Street. " Mr Mathews, the 
great man, made a speech," he tells his uncle, "which from my 
ignorance of Gloucester politics, I did not perfectly understand ; 
. . . there was one flower in his speech which was often re- 
peated and much admired ; that he came from an egg which 
never deceived, and that it was a blue egg." Charles himself 
made a speech, which was" very well received." " The best-dressed 
man of the company," he adds, " seemed to suspect that you and 
Barrow would be returned, as two or three of them told me ; but 
the great leaders are confident that you and Hammond will 
carry it." Selwyn and Hammond, however, did not carry it. 
The election ended on the I4th of September, when Mr Webb 
and Mr Barrow were returned. There is no doubt whatever 
that this was a grievous blow to Selwyn and his friends, who had 
been hoping for a different result. " I have so strong a presenti- 
ment of your success," writes Warner, " that I am almost tempted 
to give you joy of the event to-morrow." Alas, on the morrow 
George was hurrying to London, with an angry mob at his heels. 



SELWYN AS M.P. 161 

" MATSON 
"Saturday night, 16, September [1780] 

" DEAR CHARLES, I am this evening setting out for London, 
I was yesterday burned, and to-day hung in effigy upon a sign 
post. The election for the County is to-day and the Town full 
of ale and mob, and I have received information that they 
intend when it is dark to make a visit to this house. What they 
will do here, the Lord knows, but, as soon as I received this in- 
telligence, I thought it advisable to send Mie Mie to the house 
of a neighbouring gentleman, where she dines, and we shall call 
upon her on our way to London. I am as much obliged to the 
absurdity of Mr Robinson for all this, as if he had brought 
himself combustibles to fire my house. I will not anticipate my 
part of the story which I have to relate to you. It is replete 
with all things abominable, and the contrivers of it deserve any 
punishment that can be dealt the worst conduct that ever was. 
I have left behind me a dying speech which is now printing off, 
and of which I shall bring you a copy. As I cannot get further 
to-night than Frog Mill, so it will be Monday to be sure, before 
I arrive in Town. I shall hear to-morrow by the servants which 
I leave here to-night if a House at Matson remains or not, 
Yours most affectionately, G. S." l 

Matson remained, but Selwyn had had enough of Gloucester. 
"That infernal place," he called it. "It has been truly a cittd 
dolente to me." On the 6th of November he resigned his position 
as alderman of the city (he had been alderman for many years, 
and had been twice elected mayor) ; but the corporation, by a 
majority of five, refused to accept his resignation "upon the 
letter now read." Selwyn's studied contempt for Gloucester con- 
tinued, however ; for on the 7th of November 1785, we read : 

" On 7th November, 1785, George Augustus Selwyn Esquire 
one of the Aldermen of this city having neglected to appear at 
the last Council House held on the thirtieth day of September 
last And it having been proved at this house upon oath that 
he was summoned to appear now to give his reasons for such 
his non-attendance in pursuance of an Act of Common Council 
held on the tenth day of January last And Mr Selwyn having 
now neglected to appear or send some person to give any 
reasons in pursuance of such summons It is Resolved that he 
has incurred the penalty of Degradation But the Execution 
of the sentence of the Bye Law is suspended to the next House 

1 Marsham-Townshend MSS. 



162 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

And Mr Woodcock has undertaken in the meantime to speak 
to Mr Selwyn and to make a Report at the next House." x 

The matter appears not to have been mentioned again, so 
no doubt George escaped the terrible penalty of degradation. 
But I wish we had a copy of his " dying speech." 

Selwyn kept his seat in the House by returning himself, 
together with Lord Melbourne, for the borough of Ludgershall. 
(He was probably very glad to be rid of Lord George Gordon, 
M.P. for that borough from 1774 to 1780, who had been 
distinguishing himself in other directions. What a shock it 
must have been for Selwyn, down at Matson, to hear of the 
exploits of the mob on that fatal 7th of June of the mob led by 
the member for Ludgershall ! 2 ) It would be pleasant now to 
record that his parliamentary troubles were over, that in the 
shelter of the Wiltshire pocket-borough he remained free from 
all anxieties about votes and interests for the rest of his days. 
Alas, it was not so. In 1782 he had that little difficulty with 
Lord Melbourne who had "bought the seat," and had then 
joined the Opposition. In 1784 things seem to have gone 
smoothly enough at the General Election, when Selwyn chose 
Sir Nathaniel Wraxall to sit with him for Ludgershall. But 
who would have thought that the modern spirit would have 
penetrated to Wiltshire in time for the election of 1790? that 
the free and independent voters of Ludgershall, tainted perhaps 
with the heresies of the French Revolution, scorched by those 
flying sparks from France which Selwyn dreaded so much, 
should have begun to murmur about their "rights," should 
have failed to appreciate their grand old privilege of supporting 
whomever the lord of the manor commanded them to support ? 
Yet this is what actually happened. Once again sympathy is 
invited for this poor harassed gentleman, whose most cherished 
ideas on the subject of property and of politics were being thus 
rudely attacked at the end of a long parliamentary life. 

1 Corporation Minutes. 

2 " Have you heard his [Selwyn's] incomparable reply to Ld. George 
Gordon, who asked him whether he would return him again for Ludgershall ? 
He replied, ' His constituents would not.' ' Oh yes ! if you recommend me, 
they would choose me if I came from the coast of Africa.' ' That is according 
to what part of the coast you came from. They certainly would if you came 
from the Guinea coast.'" H. Walpole to Lady Ossory, 6th June 1780. 



SELWYN AS M.P. 163 

[To MARY TOWNSHEND] l 

"CLEVELAND COURT 
"Thursday [June 1790] 

"... I am, as yet, uncertain of my arrangements and my 
mind is much disturbed at the opposition which I have at 
Luggershall. It is not only because it is prejudicial to my 
own interest and mortifying by the circumstances of it but that 
I see how my father's views may be eventually frustrated in 
regard to this Borough in future times. Whatever my own 
disappointments are, the concern arising from them can now be 
but of a short duration and although that be a triste consolation 
I must have recourse to it, on more accounts than one. The 
trouble and fatigue and anxiety of mind which this causes to 
your brother Charles add greatly also to what I suffer on my 
own account and I could never excuse to myself the giving 
him this trouble if the interests of his own family were not 
so materially concerned. I thought nothing of this kind could 
have happened, having had so much Reliance upon the 
nature of the Borough and supposing that whatever was want- 
ing to confirm our property in it would be supplied by the 
vigilance of others whose pretensions although only in reversion 
were seemingly more permanent. 

" Weak princes are allways supine and lose by security, what 
could not have been extorted from them if they did not think 
themselves secure. This misfortune I undergo, and share with 
my most Christian brother Louis XVI. The Poissards of Paris 
or of Luggershall were too much despised by us, and I shall not 
be surprised if, instead of being at the head of the poll my head 
may be upon one before the election is over, for I am told that 
the democrates at Luggershall are already very riotous and 
may overpower les troupes de ma maison." 

" Saturday M. 

" I intended to have sent this two days ago but so confused is 
my mind at present that I overlooked it. Since that Mie Mie 
has told me that, considering my late illness and that she per- 
ceives how low my spirits are at times she is resolved to go 
with me, that is as far as Andover, where we shall lie on this 
day seven night, and the next day I propose to go over to 
Luggershall to begin my campaign. As soon as I return into 
this part of the world, I intend to pass a day with you at 
Chiselhurst to thank you in person for your kind offer to me 
and to Mademoiselle. Charles was to sett out to-day, I was 
with him last night, and although I saw him immersed in 
1 Marsham-Townshend MSS. 



164 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

business which would be very perplexing to others yet I had 
the satisfaction to perceive as I thought a resource in his 
temper and spirits and activity for which he is much to be 
envied. I would willingly have taken the whole burthen of this 
from off his shoulders if I had been equal to it. But, his en- 
deavour to be usefull to his brother l and his pleasure in serving 
everybody else is very uncommon and will not be often 
imitated. I do not wonder to see Lord Sydney so much 
chagrined at what has happened when so little might have 
prevented it had we had active persons on the spott to have 
purchased what has now fallen into the hands of this banker, 
who will make the family pay dear for the bargain he has 
made, and add to this the development to the world of the 
state of this Borough, which, in everybody's opinion almost 
was a property in which no one had a share but ourselves. It 
is now the virgin unmasked, and we must be contented if we 
can keep what we have, and pretend to no more at present, but 
in future do, as all courtiers do, gett what we can. Yours most 
affectionately." 

In spite of the " democrates," Selwyn was on the I2th of 
June again returned for Ludgershall, together with Mr W. B. 
Harbord, how, we do not know: perhaps the "troupes de la 
maison " managed it. And perhaps also Mr Harbord's guineas 
had something to do with it. But the aftermath of these days 
troubled Selwyn greatly. 

[To CHARLES TOWNSHEND] a 

" RICHMOND 
"September 27, 1790 

" MY DEAR CHARLES, I received yours yesterday afternoon. 
It is not consonant with common sense, to be vexed at what 
one experiences every day, which is the enormous wickedness 
of such a low abandoned fellow as Hutchins, but I confess that 
I am, and it is because a report the more groundless and of 
what is the least to be conceived has given Mr S[elwyn] so much 
uneasiness, by the effects which it has had. I have no recol- 
lection of anything in that degree relative to this, but that 
which Mr S. himself told me, that among a great deal of other 
low abuse, that had been thrown out ; but, when he mentioned 
it he seemed to have so just a contempt of it, that I never 
thought of taking any more notice to him of it. I do not 
remember to have spoke to this Hutchins but once, and that 
was, I believe, in his own house, if I am not mistaken in regard 
to the man. Then I think, that, either Mr H. Selwyn or Mr 

1 Thomas, first Viscount Sydney. 2 Marsham-Townshend MSS. 



SELWYN AS M.P. 165 

Harbord, or both were with me ; and this I should have forgott 
if the fellow, speaking of bribery, which he did in order to vent 
some of his spleen, he said that could not be laid he believed to 
my charge, for I had never bribed him, or had he seen any of 
my money. However, he ventures to assert that I flew at 
higher game, and if I bribed no one in particular that I gave a 
hundred pounds a year to bribe the whole Borough, and that 
this the Minister of his Parish putt into his pocket. He will 
take his oath of this ; I dare say that he will, but I beg that in 
this case he may treated as a Peer, and lett him assert what 
he does upon his Honour. I should think the one would be 
just as good a voucher as the other. I am sorry that Mr 
Selwyn should have suffered this, or any other wickedness of 
the sort, to have made an impression upon his mind : But, I 
am, at the same time very much ashamed that any gentleman 
of a more liberal education should have countenanced such a 
report, by giving the least credit to that which must reflect so 
much disgrace upon my relations as well as upon myself. But, 
it may be perhaps, that there are those who say that they 
believe, what they do not believe, in order to place my conduct 
and veracity in the most suspected light, that they can. I will, 
if Mr Selwyn pleases, either write a letter to him upon this 
subject, or to Mr Smith, to whom I am indebted for a great 
deal of game this season, and for which I intend to return him 
my thanks in a letter. I will do all I can, but to prevent my 
Constituents in the B. of Ludgarshall from lying, or from any 
other crime to which, by malice, or for gain they may be led 
to commit, I believe is of all things the least practicable. Now, 
as to the Borough, I will say a few words, and they are these. 
That I think it either entirely lost to my father, and his Repre- 
sentatives, or if regained at any time so as to be upon the eligible 
foot it has been till this period it must cost Lord Sydney, or his 
family, a great deal of trouble and expense. I have been for a 
long time of opinion that the plan upon which the government 
of that place was carried on, was not the most proper, which 
might have been thought of. Mr S. has been of as much 
service as it was possible for one in his station to be, but as 
Agent for a Borough his station was eccentric, you have had 
yourself infinite trouble, and vexation which I am sorry for, 
and was more than either your affection to your brother or to 
me, could have given us the least reason to expect. But, you 
and Mr S. have both of you been I say of infinite service, 
nor could your kind intentions have been disappointed if all 
other assistance had been given to this business which was 
necessary to have secured its success. If any mistakes have 



been made, if any omissions have been, which ought not to 
have been, I can only say, that nothing of that sort can be laid 
to your account, or to Mr Selwyn's, and for my own part, I 
have been so very passive, and last year was so ill, that I can 
be accused only of having done nothing, but that I relied too 
much upon the assistance of others. However, enough for 
what is past. For the future, the person, whoever he may be, 
to whom the Borough is to belong, will do right to have an 
Agent constantly upon the spott, and to give a particular 
account to the persons interested of what is done to the pre- 
judice of that interest, which he should be paid to support. 
Then you would be able to advise, or inspect, or do what you 
please without committing yourself, or being exposed to those 
insults which have been offered to you in so scandalous a manner. 
I wish undoubtedly, that Everett's practices may be made so 
clear as to defeat his purpose of wresting this Borough out of my 
hands now and of my successors. But, I fairly own that I do not 
encourage myself to hope for any such issue. I rather am of 
opinion that Everett will carry his point from the unaccountable 
failure in conduct, of those who are to defend themselves and 
their property, and that I shall not only have been at a very 
great and useless expense to return two members of parliament 
who would have given Mr Pitt their warmest support, but that 
my hopes of any emolument to be derived from it will be 
frustrated, because, although I have done the utmost in my 
power to assist his Majesty's ministers, for three and forty 
years, I am become quite useless to them. If I see this, at 
present, in too gloomy a light, I cannot help it, all I know is, 
Mr Pitt may clear the prospect for me whenever he pleases, 
and the sooner he does this the better, and in my opinion, as 
much for his own sake as mine. I shall be always happy when 
I can see you, but now more particularly, and therefore when 
you return from Ludgarshall, I will go to London for that 
purpose, if it does not suit you very well to come here. 

" I am, my dear Charles, full of acknowledgment to you, for 
all you have done and are ready to do, for my ease, or ad- 
vantage, and am with the truest affection yours, 

" G. SELWYN " 

This is really a very characteristic letter. George is sad to 
think that Ludgershall may be lost to the Townshend family ; 
but he is still more sad to think that his hopes of " emolument " 
may be " frustrated " ; and he wants Mr Pitt to u clear the pro- 
spect" by the gift of another post, though Mr Pitt had already 
given him a post worth ^800 a year. Well, neither posts nor 



SELWYN AS M.P. 1G7 

pocket-boroughs were to trouble Selwyn much longer. He 
died in the following year, and Samuel Smith, Esq., of 
Putney, reigned at Ludgershall in his stead. But Selwyn's 
death did not put an end to the insurrection at Ludgershall. 
On the 28th of June 1791, the following paragraph appeared 
in The Morning Chronicle : " The independent Electors of the 
Borough of Ludgershall, we are informed, intend to enter a 
caveat in Doctors Commons against that part of Mr G. A. 
Selwyn's will where he has given their property to Lord 
Sydney. They having a great majority of legal votes, conceive 
that the right of representation lies in them, and are of opinion 
that if Mr Selwyn had survived the 24th of March, he would 
have found it necessary to have made some little alteration in 
his Will." On the previous day the same journal had referred 
to Selwyn's " diminished interest " in the borough of Ludgershall. 
As a matter of fact, Ludgershall was settled property, and 
devolved upon Lord Sydney (Thomas Townshend) as re- 
mainderman by the settlement. But Selwyn added a codicil 
to his will in 1790 to make assurance doubly sure. The para- 
graph in the Chronicle a radical journal was probably a 
journalistic joke ; at all events, no caveat was entered at 
Doctors' Commons. The freeholders of Ludgershall, however, 
had already taken other steps to assert their claim, as is 
proved by the following entry in the journals of the House of 
Commons under date i6th February 1791 an entry which 
also explains the mysterious reference in the Chronicle to the 
" 24th of March " : " Whereas by a certificate in writing, sub- 
scribed by two members of this House, I have received infor- 
mation of the death of George Augustus Selwyn Esquire, late 
one of the sitting members for the Borough of Ludgershall in 
the County of Wilts, whose election and return to serve in 
Parliament for the said borough was complained of by several 
Petitions presented to the House of Commons, which are 
ordered to be taken into consideration on Thursday, the 24th 
day of March next : now in pursuance of an act etc., I do 
hereby give you notice hereof. Given under my hand etc. 
Henry Addington, Speaker. To the Returning Officer of 
members to serve in Parliament for the Borough of Ludgershall, 
in the County of Wilts." The committee appointed to try the 
petitions reported on the i$th of April that the deceased and 



168 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

his colleague were duly elected, no doubt to the disappoint- 
ment of The Morning Chronicle and the freeholders of Ludgers- 
hall. As for that insurgent borough, it survived, but still in its 
feudal chains, until the debacle of 1832. Its end was not 
inglorious. " I am the owner of the borough of Ludgershall," 
cried its member from his place in the House during the debate 
on the Reform Bill, " I am the constituency of the borough of 
Ludgershall, and I am the member for the borough of Ludgers- 
hall ; and in all three capacities I assent to the disfranchise- 
ment of Ludgershall." Such disinterestedness extremely rare 
in 1832, as Mr Walter Bagehot reminds us was worthy of the 
finest traditions of English aristocracy. 

It is time now to speak of George Selwyn's politics. 
Fortunately there was nothing complex or esoteric about his 
political creed. His was the simple faith of the Vicar of Bray, 
and he held it with the same engaging candour and firmness 
as were displayed by that cleric. George, in short, was a 
placeman, who held that it was the first duty of all placemen 
to keep their places, and to annex as many more as circum- 
stances (and a friendly Prime Minister) would permit. You 
might reduce his creed to articles somewhat in this fashion : 

1. Government is an important body of persons to whom a 
mysterious Providence has confided the patronage of a large 
number of well-paid, sinecure, Places. 

2. It is better to have a Place than not to have a Place. 
Remember this when what you call your convictions trouble 
you. 

3. All Governments should be supported while there is the 
slightest chance of receiving a Place in exchange for a vote. 
Death-bed repentances on the part of Governments are not 
unknown ; therefore for Heaven's sake be careful how you 
withdraw your valuable support from a Minister. A Placeman 
should keep his eye upon the eleventh hour. 

4. You may abuse an Opposition as much as you like. 
When it becomes a Government, however, treat it with respect. 
It is pedantic to carry your prejudices into the Opposition 
Lobby. 

5. Subject to the foregoing, the King should be master in 
his own house. 

The fifth article is added out of fairness to Selwyn. He 



SELWYN AS M.P. 169 

was a placeman, it is true, but he was a King's man also. 
Perhaps he was a King's man partly because he thought that 
the K-ing would always and eventually win, as against aspiring 
politicians. But he had also a hereditary attachment to the 
royal house, which was perfectly unselfish and genuine. "If 
I only see his [the King's] hat upon the throne," he cried once 
in an ecstasy of loyalty, " and ready to be put upon his head 
when he can come and claim it ... I shall be satisfied." 
Could King-worship be more touching or more unaffected than 
this ? As to whether Selwyn was a Whig or a Tory, what does 
it matter ? The placeman knows not these ordinary political 
distinctions. They mean nothing to him. Selwyn was of 
course a Whig by birth ; but he was, as Dr Warner said, " a 
discoloured Whig" very much discoloured. Does not the 
great apostle of Whiggery refer somewhere to the Georgian 
Whigs who " crawled and licked the dust at the feet of power "? 
Let Selwyn's politics go at that. Too often had George to 
brush his garments after making an obeisance to some great 
man or other. 

Let us look for a moment at the results of this political creed. 
We need not go further back than 1768, when Pitt and Grafton 
were in power. Before that Selwyn had no doubt been a fairly 
consistent Government man, during the shifting and short-lived 
ministries which then were in fashion. Newcastle and Pitt, 
Bute, and Grenville, and Rockingham : I am sure Selwyn voted 
for them all, with possible qualms of conscience when Rocking- 
ham was in office. He must have rejoiced at the Pitt-Grafton 
coalition, acceptable as it was to the King. Anyhow, he is soon 
in negotiation with the Duke of Grafton about a place. " I had 
yesterday morning my conference with the D. of G. ; he has 
assured me that I should have the place of Treasurer to the 
Queen, added to that which I already have. . . . The two 
places together, if I am not mistaken in the estimate, will be 
near 2300 per annum. I'm much obliged to the D. for his 
liberal and kind manner of treating with me. I have succeeded 
better, I find, in negotiating for myself, then when I employed 
another ; but I have this time to deal with a person who seemed 
willing to comply with anything which I could propose in 
reason, and has even gone beyond my proposals ; and I have 
reason to flatter myself that His Majesty has not that reluctance 



170 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

to oblige me, which his Grandfather had, and has certainly a 
much better opinion of me." But George was never appointed 
Treasurer to the Queen. " I do assure [you] my dear Lord," 
he writes to Carlisle in 1773, "my spirits are very much below 
par, for a variety of reasons, and I wish that I could go from 
hence to change the scene. The ill-treatment which I have 
met with from the D. of G. and Lord N[orth] has been very 
ill-timed, and the altercation there has been about it very dis- 
agreeable to me." It was certainly very unkind of the Duke 
of Grafton, who had often entertained Selwyn at Euston, and 
had relieved him of a good deal of surplus money at cards. 
Why visit great houses, and play the deuce with your fortune, 
if nothing tangible results ? Selwyn might have argued in this 
sensible way ; but never mind : Grafton had failed him ; he 
would try North. " Except Lord North take me by the hand, 
poverty is to be the jucundus amicus in vid pro vehiculo" But 
Lord North had so many people to take by the hand. Selwyn, 
however, went on steadily supporting his lordship's adminis- 
tration, steadily voting with him on the American War. As 
we have seen, he went out of his way to oblige the Premier 
in the Gloucester election of 1780. There was nothing else to 
do ; for were not the Opposition, besides hampering his Majesty 
and the Government in the most factious manner, proposing all 
kinds of terrible innovations in the ancient constitution of this 
realm ? There was Burke's Bill for example. Burke had been 
" very civil " to Selwyn, notwithstanding political differences. 
But what is a poor placeman to do when civil persons take to 
depriving him of bread and butter? Conceive Selwyn's 
feelings on listening to a certain " speech on economical reform " 
in 1780. Burke began by attacking the King's household, the 
wardrobe, and kitchen, and the rest. Well, that does not 
affect us : we are not Lord Chamberlain or Groom of the Stole ; 
but now the terrible man turns to the Board of Works, of which 
institution we happen to be Paymaster. " The good works of 
that Board of Works, are as carefully concealed as other good 
works ought to be ; they are perfectly invisible. . . . That office 
too has a treasury and a paymaster of its own " tut, tut 
" and lest the arduous duties of that important exchequer should be 
too fatiguing^ that paymaster has a deputy to partake his profits 
and relieve his cares, ... I propose therefore, along with the 



SELWYN AS M.P. 171 

rest, to pull down this whole ill-contrived scaffolding, which 
obstructs, rather than forwards, our public works." Well, we 
have heard the worst ; we mop our brow and think regretfully 
of our threatened four hundred a year. Four hundred a but 
what is that ? " The mint, though not a department of the 
household, has the same vices " (sensation in the bosom of the 
Clerk of the Irons and Surveyor of the Meltings : a poor thing 
sir, that post). " It is a great expense to the nation, chiefly for 
the sake of members of Parliament." Is it any wonder, that, 
years afterwards, when the King's madness declared itself, 
Selwyn should exclaim in the bitterness of his soul : " That I 
should live to speak of my master at last as a lunatic ! Burk[e] 
walking at large, and he in a strait waistcoat ! " It is pleasant 
to think that Burke recovered his sanity on the fall of the 
Bastille. 

As Lord North's government verged to its decline, Selwyn 
found himself between the devil and the deep sea. He had 
served the devil faithfully, but for naught ; the deep sea of the 
Opposition was about to overwhelm him. We come now to the 
most diverting episode in Selwyn's political history. Never 
surely, since the world began, have the sorrows of the placeman 
his racking agonies of alternate hope and fear, his sad re- 
membrances of promises broken and vows unfulfilled been 
laid bare as George Selwyn laid them bare in his letters to 
Carlisle during the change of ministry of 1782. He sees the 
storm coming and awaits it philosophically. " I have only 
desired, if they are resolved to turn me out, to have three 
months' warning, that I may get into another place, which I 
shall certainly have if I go with the same character which I had 
in my last. I am sober and honest, and have no followers, and 
although I used to be out at nights and play at the alehouse, I 
have now left it off." An engaging picture this, of the reformed 
rake. But in a week or two his philosophy begins to desert 
him. He is " filled with horror and indignation " at the talk 
which he hears at White's, Charles's talk, and Richard's (Fitz- 
patrick) and that of the other young bucks of the Opposition. 
However, " no future minister can hurt me, for none will I ever 
trust. Lord North and his Secretary, Robinson, have acted such 
a part by me that I should never have believed anything but a 
couple of attorneys of the lowest class to have done." While 



172 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

the Cabinet making is going on George's spirits rise and fall 
daily. " When I left the House, I left in one room a party of 
young men, who made me, from their life and spirits, wish for 
one night to be twenty. There was a table full of them drink- 
ing young Pitt, Lord Euston, Berkley, North, etc., etc., singing 
and laughing d gorge deployee : some of them sang very good 
catches ; one Wilberforce, an M. of P., sang the best." But George 
is in no humour for singing catches with Pitt and Lord North. 
He goes home and writes to Carlisle : " I utter no complaint, 
but I feel the danger I am in, and the distress which it may 
occasion to me, and still more Lord Nforth's] abominable treat- 
ment of me." It was quite like North's insensibility to sing 
catches while people's places were in danger. Yet on another 
day we are able to resume our philosophy. "Burke was last 
night in high spirits. I told him that I hope, now they had 
forced our entrenchments, and broke loose, that he and his 
friends would be compassionate lions, tender-hearted hyaenas, 
generous wolves. You remember that speech of his ; he was 
much diverted with the application." There is a pretty touch 
about this meeting between Selwyn and the man who robbed 
him of his post. "The juncture of time" 'tis the eleventh 
hour, friends " the abominable treatment which I have re- 
ceived from the late Ministry, and the little expectation of any 
favour from the present, hold out to me a most melancholy 
prospect ... I long to see you, Lady Carlisle, and the 
children. This is the only balm in this infernal business." 
But our nephew Tommy Townshend is Secretary of State in the 
new ministry, and really . . . you never know. " If any favour 
is shown to me, it must come to me in a becoming manner, or I 
shall not accept it." The eleventh hour has struck ; North, 
the villain, has gone without a word (though "that scoundrel 
Robinson has a pension of ^1000"); and the Opposition has at 
length become a Government. Away, therefore, with pedantry ! 
Away with prejudice ! " The new government, for it is more than 
a new administration, has given me quite a new system for my 
own conduct. If they have by violence etc., got into places 
from whence I would have excluded them, if now they should 
behave rightly in them, and the country becomes better and 
safer for their conduct, it would be folly not to assist them'' 
Truly George Selwyn was the perfect placeman. 



SELWYN AS M.R 173 

Well, Fox and his friends came into power for a few 
months ; Burke's Bill became an Act ; and the Paymaster of the 
Works lost his place. We do not know what his feelings were 
at this cruel crisis ; we can only guess at them. But the 
" balm " was not long delayed. Providence, indeed, seemed to 
be stage-managing the affairs of the country with special refer- 
ence to our distressed placeman. Rockinghamdied; Shelbourne 
fell ; Mr Fox (late Charles) and Lord North formed their fatal 
coalition ; that too disappeared. And then young Mr Pitt 
came into power. Now George Selwyn had watched with 
interest and with sympathy the rise of this strange young man. 
"A premier at the starting-post," he had called him once with 
a fine sense of prophecy, after hearing him speak. He did not 
hear Pitt's maiden speech, but was told that it " gained an uni- 
versal applause." "A sensible and promising young man/' 
remarked Selwyn on another occasion. It is interesting also 
to note that the Selwyn family were on terms of personal friend- 
ship with the Chatham family. 

" FROGNAL 
"October 2ist, 1774 

" Mrs Selwyn and Mr Townshend present their best compli- 
ments to Lord Chatham, and beg leave to express their sincere 
joy and thanks for the favourable account which he had been 
pleased to send them of the present state of his health, which they 
hope is like to be soon re-established. Lord Midleton's fond- 
ness for Peper Harow carry'd him from us a few days ago, but 
we expect him back again soon, and he will then certainly take 
the first opportunity of paying his respects to Lord Chatham, 
which he was very desirous of doing when he was here, if his Lord- 
ship had then been in a condition to admitt of visits. Mr Thomas 
Townshend, junior (who return'd the day before yesterday from 
Hampshire), is gone this morning with his sister to London in 
order to see his brother, who has had a slight return of some 
symptoms of his late disorder. Both father and son will very soon 
avail themselves of the privilege which the improvement in Lord 
Chatham's health gives them of paying their respects in person. 

" Mrs Selwyn and Mr Townshend beg leave to present their 
most respectful compliments to Lady Chatham and the rest 
of the family of Hayes." 1 

And in another letter Mrs Selwyn " cannot help disobeying 
1 Chatham MSS. Record Office. 



174 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

her ladyship's commands not to write as she cannot resist the 
pleasure of congratulating her ladyship on the safe arrival of Lord 
Pitt at Quebec. . . . Mr Townshend and the family at Frognal de- 
sire to join with Mrs Selwyn in congratulations to Lord and Lady 
Chatham, the Lady Pitt, and the Mr Pitts, on this occasion." This 
agreeable friendship bore fruit after many days, though it would 
be improper to suggest that there was in it necessarily anything 
of intelligent anticipation of favours to come. But Mr Pitt be- 
came Premier on the i8th of December 1783. Nine days after- 
wards The Morning Chronicle announced that George Selwyn 
had been appointed Surveyor-General of Crown Lands. On the 
3 ist of December the same journal said: "The moving of the 
writ of the patriotic George Selwyn, who has accepted the office 
of Surveyor of Crown Lands, occasioned an universal burst of 
laughter in the House; yet perhaps," continues the radical organ, 
" this is no laughing matter ; for as he is the proprietor of the 
borough of Ludgershall, the office may perhaps have been given 
him for his interest in a new Parliament, and consequently this 
appointment shows that all thoughts of a dissolution are not 
quite extinct." The Chronicle was not far wrong. Parliament 
was dissolved on the 25th of March, and Pitt returned to power 
with a great majority, which included the patriotic Mr Selwyn. 
Let us leave the member for Ludgershall in his last and most 
lucrative place, calmly enjoying his eight hundred a year, 
doubly sweet after the long bitterness of waiting. 

George Selwyn does not appear to have accomplished much 
in the House of Commons during his forty-three years of 
parliamentary life. There is no record of his ever having made 
a speech of any length or importance during that time. That 
is not remarkable, however, in the eighteenth-century House of 
Commons, whose ordinary members were content to leave the 
speech-making to the gladiators on the Front Benches. But 
Selwyn attended the House steadily, did his duty in the Lobby, 
and slept profoundly through the long debates : so at least says 
Wraxall. I should like to have heard Burke thundering 
against the American War, and to have seen North and Selwyn 
deliberately snoring through the performance. There was 
something fine about this assured patrician slumber. But even 
in those days there were duties to which the private member, 
however somnolent, had to attend. There was a lamprey-pie 



SELWYN AS M.P. 175 

to be presented every year to the Prince of Wales from the 
Corporation of Gloucester; there were deans wanting preferment, 
and humbler citizens desirous, like their betters, of snug berths 
under Government. Selwyn had often to recommend aspiring 
constituents to those in authority. Sometimes he did it with a 
good grace, as when he wrote to the Duke of Newcastle's private 
secretary asking that the controllership of customs in the port 
of Gloucester should be given to Mr Thomas Lander. 1 Some- 
times one imagines that the recommendation must have damned 
any faint chances the poor candidate might have otherwise had. 
Here is a letter from Selwyri to the Duke of Newcastle, 2 " re- 
commending " the Rev. Dr Gaily, who had written " to acquaint 
me of the death of the Dean [of Gloucester] together with such 
importunities that I would testify to your Grace his zeal and 
activity for his Majesty's interest and his friends. I cannot 
refuse to do so, although I have already apprised him of your 
Grace's prior engagement, as well as my own predilection in 
favour of Mr Harris, if that could have been of any consequence 
whatever. Of what use this testimonial will be to do (sic) Dr 
Gaily, I do not know, but beg that it may be considered that it 
was what I did not think possible for me to refuse, and there- 
fore that it may be excused in him who is with the greatest 
respect, etc." The moralist who is in want of a subject would 
do well to examine the Newcastle manuscripts or the Hardwicke 
manuscripts at the British Museum, or the Chatham manuscripts 
at the Record Office, where he will see how the great men of 
the eighteenth century were approached by those desiring 
favours from them. What elaborate prostrations, what grovel- 
lings, what whinings and toadyings are here! Dignitaries of 
the Church scrambling for deaneries and bishoprics ; members 
of Parliament wanting sinecures ; lawyers wanting judgeships ; 
country gentlemen yearning for peerages ; you will find them 
all in the letter-books of the great men. Can you wonder at 
the arrogance of the Pelhams and the Newcastles and the 
Chathams and the Norths, when you remember the clouds of 
incense which rose around them daily ? And how pleasing it 
is to think that if one could see the letter-books of our modern 
Prime Ministers, no such moral reflections would occur to us, 

1 Brit. Mus. Add. MSS. 32907, f. 50. 
8 Brit. Mus. Add. MSS. 32878, f. 112. 



176 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

since promotion, they say, now goes by merit, and virtue is 
always suitably rewarded ! Well, Dr Gaily wrote on the same 
day as Selwyn to the Duke, saying that " it would be a great 
grief and disgrace to me to have a stranger to our body put 
over my head." Apparently Dr Gaily was disappointed ; for in 
the following year there is another vacancy, and another 
" recommendation " from Selwyn, 1 " forced by the repeated 
sollicitations of Dr Gaily to wait upon your Grace once more 
concerning the Deanery of Gloucester for which he has desired 
my intercession on his behalf. I intended to have saved both 
myself and you from this trouble by explaining to him the 
inutility of my demand, by assuring him that I either had no 
interest on this occasion, or if I had it must be employed in 
favour of my friend Mr Harris, whose pretensions at Gloucester 
equal the Doctor's and with me much better. However, since 
he has thought fit that I should so far second his intention as 
to declare that his merit in regard to the government and its 
interest is very good, and that he himself would certainly be a 
very acceptable person, I could not refuse it, and therefore hope 
that I shall have your Grace's pardon." Poor Dr Gaily ! Did 
he ever obtain the Deanery of Gloucester? I do not know, 
though it would be easy enough to find out, if it were of any 
importance. But it is all very trivial now, and is only quoted 
as an illustration of the irksome duties of the private member 
in the eighteenth century, or any other century. 

The annals of George Selwyn's quiet life in Parliament 
include his work on Private Bill Committees, which even in 
those days formed no small part of an M.P.'s duty. As chair- 
man of one of these committees George seems to have admired 
his own performances prodigiously. " No sooner [had I] begun 
to read the preamble to the Bill [Sedgemoor Enclosure] but 
I found myself in a nest of hornets. The room was full, and 
an opposition made to it, and disputes upon every word, which 
kept me in the chair, as I have told you. I have gained it 
seems a great reputation, and am at this moment regarded one 
of the best chairmen on this stand." But in spite of George's 
talents the Bill was lost. He moved in the House "to have 
Thursday fixed for it. We had a debate and division upon 
my motion and this Bill will at last not go down so glibly 
1 Brit. Mus. Add. MSS. 32900, f. 241. 



SELWYN AS M.P. 177 

as Bully [Lord Bolingbroke] hoped that it would." Later on, 
" Bully has lost his Bill. . . . There were fifty-nine against us, 
and we were thirty-five. We were a Committee absolutely of 
Almack's. . . ." George had evidently made heroic efforts to 
save the Bill. " It is surprising," says he, " what a fatality 
attends some people's proceedings. I begged last night as 
for alms, that they would meet me to settle the votes. I have 
since I have been a member been at twenty of these meetings,and 
always brought numbers down by this means. But my advice 
was slighted, and twenty people were walking about the streets 
who could have carried this point." He then explains how the 
Bill was lost : by over-cleverness on the part of the promoters. 
" They sent one Bill in to the country for the assent of the 
people interested and brought me another, differing in twenty 
particulars, to carry through the Committee, without once 
mentioning to me that the two Bills differed. This they 
thought was cunning, and I believe a happy composition of 
Bully's cunning and John [St John's] idea of his own parts." 
The opponents of the Bill kept quiet until the Report stage, 
when this objection was taken with fatal results. It was not, 
however, only in an official capacity that George Selwyn 
haunted the committee-rooms. Wraxall gives us a brief but 
engaging account of how the two members for Ludgershall 
spent some of their leisure time at the House. " As he [Selwyn] 
had an aversion to all long debates in Parliament, during which 
he frequently fell asleep, we used to withdraw ourselves to one 
of the committee-rooms upstairs, where his conversation was 
often, very instructive." What did they talk about ? " It was 
not so much as a man of wit," remarks Wraxall, "that I 
cultivated his society. He was likewise thoroughly versed in 
6ur history, and master of many curious as well as secret 
anecdotes, relative to the Houses of Stuart and Brunswick." 
With this little picture we may end our chapter on Selwyn the 
politician. Burke is making one of his confounded harangues 
in the House on economy, and Selwyn is tired. " I've had 
enough of it," says he to Wraxall, " shall we go upstairs ? " So, 
bowing to the Speaker, the two men leave the chamber, and 
mount the stairs to the committee-room, where there is an 
arm-chair, and a fire perhaps. There Selwyn gossips about 
the old days at Court : about Molly Lepell, and Mrs Howard, 

M 



178 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

and Mary Bellenden ; about the Duchess of Portsmouth even, 
Charles II.'s favourite. She knew a lot about the Stuarts, that 
queer old lady. What's this she said once about Charles I.'s 
executioner? The talk drifts on until it gets dark, and the 
narrator begins to nod, when Wraxall steals away, leaving 
Selwyn quietly sleeping. 



CHAPTER X 

SELWYN IN PARIS 

GEORGE SELWYN was, for many years of his life, a 
constant visitor to, and a devoted admirer of, the city 
of Paris. In this he resembled the majority of young 
men of fashion of his time, who, with but little persuasion, 
would forsake the clubs of St James's Street, or the waters of 
Bath, for the many dear delights of the French capital. And 
not only men of fashion, but historians, men of letters, philo- 
sophers : they all exhibited the same preference. Was not Mr 
Hume a familiar figure in the most exclusive Parisian circles ? 
Did not Mr Horace Walpole endure the pangs of sea-sickness 
(very distressing to a gentleman of his refinement) on many 
occasions, merely to gratify his intellectual passion for a dis- 
tinguished lady of France ? Yet it must be confessed that for 
every journey to that country made by Mr Walpole, Mr Selwyn 
probably made half-a-dozen. You see, he was that now extinct 
type : the young man of fashion with an interest not very pro- 
found, but real enough so far as it went in current political 
and literary thought. And that brings us naturally to the 
question as to why the young man of fashion in the eighteenth 
century should so persistently affect Paris. The answer is, of 
course, that Paris stood for three things which had a perennial 
attraction for the young man : fashion, the Court, and the 
salon. 

Paris, in the first place, was the centre of fashion. It set 
the tone for dress, for manners, for the art of living generally. 
The gentlemen of England did not consider themselves well- 
dressed unless they wore the latest Parisian designs in velvets, 
and ruffles, and wigs. Dr Tobias Smollett, who visited Paris 
in the course of his travels, has a characteristic sneer at this 
amiable vanity. " The good Englishman," says he, " instead of 
a plain English cloth suit and a bob-wig, must here provide 
himself with a camblet suit trimmed with silver for spring and 
autumn, with silk cloaths for summer, and cloth bound with 
179 



180 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

gold or velvet for winter ; and he must wear his bag- wig a la 
pigeon." To be sure the honest doctor never troubled much 
about fashions, least of all about French fashions. That stout 
old Saxon travelled through France and Italy in true British 
style, damning and denouncing most heartily the inferior ways 
of the foreigner ; so that Mr Sterne, who followed him, con- 
sidered himself bound to weep copiously at every opportunity, 
in order to prove to the foreigner that all Britons were not so 
unsympathetic. But George Selwyn and his friends had none 
of the prejudices of Doctor Smollett. When George visited 
Paris he was laden with commissions to buy the things for 
which the city was famous. Velvets, silks, satins, laces ; china, 
glass, furniture, wines : George, with the utmost good-nature, 
bought them all, and sent them (or carried them) to his friends 
in England. Lord March asks for "a dozen pair of silk 
stockings for the Zamperini, of a very small size, and with 
embroidered clocks. She is but fifteen." " Vous etes charmant 
pour les commissions," he observes elsewhere ; which Selwyn 
certainly was. As for Gilly Williams, that sprightly person is 
always in need of velvets and point ruffles ; while Mr Henry 
St John wants a library. These articles ordered from Paris 
were, of course, not brought to England openly : they were 
smuggled. George Selwyn was personally, as he informed his 
niece, "not a great, but a very successful smuggler." And if he 
were making a long stay in France there were certain " smug- 
gling captains," known to Gilly Williams and himself, who 
could always arrange for the safe despatch of silks and laces 
from Calais to London without the formality of passing the 
Dover customs. Yes : the gentlemen of England were smug- 
glers all. It was no sin with them to cheat the State. To be 
found out, however, was considered an annoying circumstance. 
" All my stockings have been seized," wrote March to Selwyn 
once, " by not being taken out of the paper and rolled up, which 
would have made them pass for old stockings." An obviously 
stupid man, this smuggler. 

But in the second place, Paris in George Selwyn's time 
possessed the most brilliant court in Europe. Compare the 
court of St James's for a moment with that of Versailles. 
Under George II. the English court was incredibly dull and 
stupid. Its ornaments were vulgar German women, half- 



SELWYN IN PARIS 181 

educated peers, and their still less educated wives, ecclesiastical 
hangers-on of an awful pomposity and commonplaceness. But 
Versailles : who has not heard of the almost legendary splen- 
dours of that court under Louis XV. ? " All day long," we are 
told, "an unbroken stream of carriages rolled between Paris and 
Versailles." And, at the palace, what crowds of fine ladies 
and gentlemen ! What silks and satins, laces and ruffles, lights 
and jewels and laughter ! Here were the most beautiful and 
the most vicious women in Europe : the candles shone upon 
their bold shameless eyes (can't you fancy the free look of a 
Pompadour?), their white shoulders, their glittering diamonds. 
Picture them in the great gallery at Versailles under the three 
thousand wax candles. In the centre sits the King, playing at 
lansquenet, with Madame de Pompadour close by, you may be 
sure. The Duke of Luxemburg stands behind the King's 
chair : he claims that tiresome honour. At the other end of the 
gallery the Queen has her gambling-table, this poor lonely Queen, 
scorned by her husband's courtesans. There is no great com- 
petition for seats at this table. Other tables are scattered 
around, presided over by ladies of noble birth. Madame La 
Duchesse de Choiseul is there, I hope : a charming, pure, and 
gracious woman : the most lovable woman, perhaps, in all that 
great gallery of Versailles. See ; there are crowds about the 
gambling-tables, watching the play : Paris society, and London 
society too (George Selwyn is among them, and Lord March). 
George will write a long account of the scene to his niece Mary 
Townshend. The Due de Luynes will also write an account of 
it, and all the world will read it in his memoirs. The Due 
says there were pickpockets present ; he also grumbles at the 
draughts, which blew out a number of candles, and gave a 
number of distinguished persons colds. But these are trifles, 
upon which a just regard for the dignity of history should forbid 
us to dwell. Rather let us remember the wax lights, the music, 
the glitter of jewels, the bright eyes of the women, in this 
astonishing Vanity Fair of Louis XV. Observe that monarch 
himself, shuffling the cards for La Pompadour. He is the 
handsomest man in France, and the weakest, the idlest, the 
most debauched. Do not ask his achievements as a king. 
La Pompadour was his mistress : there is his title to fame ! 
Yet he arrogates to himself the most absolute authority in the 



182 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

State. " Legislative power belongs to me alone ; public order 
emanates from me ; I am its supreme guardian." So wrote 
this ladies' pet, this curled and scented Caesar. They tell us 
that great nobles strove for the honour of handing Louis his 
cane, of presenting him with his snuff-box, of offering him his 
gloves. Ministers of religion disputed as to who should say 
grace at his Majesty's meals ; and to prevent mistakes, they all 
said it together. When his Majesty spoke, it was the voice of a 
god. " One cannot," wrote the Due de Luynes, " one cannot be 
too much impressed by all the marks of piety and goodness in 
the king." On this occasion the piety and goodness of the King 
consisted in the admission that even he was mortal, and must die. 
Nothing can make Louis XV. a noble or even an interesting 
figure : he is too like our George IV. for that, though George 
was a young man of unimpeachable morals compared with him. 
But Louis' Queen, Marie Leczczynski, daughter of Stanislaus, 
King of Poland, is interesting pathetically, almost tragically, 
interesting. She deserves mention here, also, because she was 
George Selwyn's friend, and Selwyn admired her with a great 
admiration. The Earl of March, at Fontainebleau, writes to 
Selwyn : " I dine to-day at what is called no dinner at Madame 
de Ceingnies. The Queen asked Madame de Mirepoix, si elle 
n'avait pas beaucoup entendu m6dire de M. Selvyn et elle? 
Elle a repondu, oui, beaucoup, Madame. J'en suis bien aise, 
dit la Reine." And George Selwyn, passing through Paris in 
1778, sees Marie Antoinette at Versailles, who wakes memories 
in him of the other Marie : 

" I dined this day sevennight," he writes to his niece, " at 
Versailles, and was there comme une Beguille, staring at a Royal 
family, and I had the honour, I believe, to be stared at too by 
the Queen, for Mme. de Darport who was in attendance upon 
her, and was so good as to reconnaitre me, told her, as I imagine, 
who I was. But she must not expect me to be in love with her 
as I was with the late Queen, although she is really one of the 
handsomest women of her Court and seems the happiest, which 
I am sorry for it, could not be said of ma pauvre Reine 
defuncte." l 

History has no stranger tale than that of how Marie 
Leczczynski came to be Queen of France. Her father was a 
i Marsham-Townshend MSS. 



SELWYN IN PARIS 183 

Polish nobleman who, by grace of Charles XII., reigned in that 
country for five years. After Pultowa, he lost his throne and fled 
to France, where they gave him a small pension. Stanislaus lived 
the life of a country gentleman at Weissenberg, with a ragged 
crew of Polish retainers. He hoped that his daughter Maria would 
make a good match, say with a German margrave, or a French 
duke. He never in his wildest moments imagined her Queen 
of France. But Louis XV. wanted a wife, or rather, it was 
necessary that he should marry. He was not particular as to 
his choice, and only bargained that the lady should be passably 
good-looking. All other troublesome details he left to the Duke 
of Bourbon, who in turn left them to his mistress, Madame de Prie. 
This woman decided that Maria Leczczynski should be Queen. 
Conceive the raptures of Maria's father, and Maria's mother, 
and of Maria herself. On hearing the news the good parents 
and their child knelt down and thanked Heaven for this crown- 
ing mercy. You are to picture the Due d'Antin coming to 
Weissenberg to make a formal demand for the hand of the 
princess, with a guard of a hundred and fifty strong, and with 
ten carriages, each drawn by ten horses. Stanislaus gathers 
his ragged regiment of Polish servants, and goes out to meet 
him in a carriage hired from, perhaps, the nearest livery stable. 
The dignity, however, was not all on the side of France. The 
historian would fain dwell for a moment upon this brave old 
Stanislaus who (years after this), as Duke of Lorraine, kept at 
Luneville the simplest and most idyllic court in Christendom. 
He hated pomp and cermony ; went to bed o' nights at nine 
o'clock ; kept a dwarf, whom they baked in a pie once ; read 
history and philosophy ; patronised men of letters, and talked 
familiarly with Montesquieu, and Helvetius, and Voltaire. 
Finally the old King set fire to his dressing-gown, and so died. 
But all this is a long distance away from the Queen of France, 
and still further from George Selwyn. Let us hasten to say 
then, that Maria was married at Strasburg, and journeyed 
through rain and storm and mud to Paris, to begin her sad life 
there. Marie (she was now French) was not beautiful : her nose 
was too long ; but she had a lovely complexion, so lovely that 
" fresh water was the only paint it required." And she was 
amiable, and pious ; she was fond of needlework, and made 
altar cloths for churches. She could also sing a little, and paint a 



184 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

little ; the only thing she could not do even a little was to please 
her husband. It was her fate to sit passively by and watch 
other women please him, and rule both him and the country. 
Such was Marie with the unpronounceable name, Queen of 
France in the days of which we write. 

But, in addition to the attractions of the French court, there 
were for Englishmen in the eighteenth century the attractions of 
the French salon. The eighteenth century was the golden period 
of the salon in Paris. It declined in the nineteenth, and has dis- 
appeared as an institution altogether in the twentieth. As for 
London, there has, perhaps, only been one true salon in that city : 
Holland House under the third Lord Holland. In George II.'s 
time there was of course nothing approaching a salon in 
London that is to say, there was no house where men and 
women of intellect met regularly, in an unconventional way, under 
the aegis of a distinguished host or hostess, and discussed the 
affairs of the universe without colour of prejudice or passion. 
There were only dinners, and card-parties, and balls, given by 
patrician ladies of an inconceivable dulness. But when George 
Selwyn and his friends crossed the Channel to Paris they found 
many salons open to them, presided over, for the most part, by 
women who could hold their own with the best and most bril- 
liant minds in France. Volumes have been written about these 
famous meeting-places, and there are volumes still to come. 
Here we can only indicate a few of the houses which George 
Selwyn patronised on his many visits to Paris. There was, for 
example, the house of Helvetius, the encyclopaedist, one of the 
many apostles of utility. Again, there was Baron H'Olbach 
(or D'Olbach) who " kept the cafe of Europe." Selwyn seems 
to have been fairly intimate with D'Olbach, and visited him 
many times at his house in the Rue Royale, known as " the 
Synagogue." D'Olbach was an author also : wrote " Christianity 
Unveiled," "The Priests Unmasked," and other works of a 
rationalist character. But he was best known as a gossip and 
a giver of good dinners. It was the fashion to dine or sup with 
Helvetius on Tuesday, with Madame Geoffrin on Wednesday, 
with D'Olbach on Thursday, and with Madame du Deffand on 
Sunday. But now we have mentioned the names of two of the 
most distinguished salonieres in Paris in the eighteenth century, 
both intimate friends of George Selwyn : Madame Geoffrin 



SELWYN IN PARIS 185 

and Madame du Deffand. Madame Geoffrin we can discuss with 
some abruptness ; but Madame du Deffand was Selwyn's oldest 
and closest friend in Paris ; her name and his are linked in many 
curious and interesting ways ; and she must therefore have con- 
siderably more attention paid her than her rival. 

For rivals the two ladies were ; not so far as we know in 
love, but in reputation. They each kept a salon, which had its 
own circle of visitors though many, like Walpole and Selwyn, 
patronised both houses its own special characteristics and 
atmosphere. Madame du Deffand's was aristocratic ; Madame 
Geoffrin affected the aristocracy of intellect only. At du 
Deffand's might be found the best blood of France and Eng- 
land ; at Geoffrin's well, at Geoffrin's, " les philosophes etaient 
chez eux." Madame du Deffand referred to her rival's salon as 
" une omelette au lard." History, unfortunately, has not pre- 
served Madame Geoffrin's retort : possibly it was also something 
in the cookery line. At which salon would you have preferred 
to visit? At Madame du Deffand's you would have met fine 
ladies and gentlemen, wits, leaders of fashion ; at Madame 
Geoffrin's sculptors, musicians, painters, philosophers. Per- 
haps the wise man would distribute his favours impartially, 
remembering that fine ladies and gentlemen are not always 
dull, and intellectuals not always illuminating. This was 
George Selwyn's plan. But Selwyn was really of the du 
Deffand faction, and only paid flying visits to the camp of the 
enemy. I suppose Madame du Deffand was much the more 
fascinating woman of the two, but nobody could love Madame 
du Deffand, however much one might admire her, whereas 
Madame Geoffrin was a kind little bourgeoise, who was regarded 
with affection by those whom she befriended. 

Madame du Deffand, however, was in some respects the 
most remarkable woman of her time, and she was the con- 
temporary of many women who are rightly entitled to that 
adjective. Born Marie de Vichy Chamrond, she married in 
1718, at the age of twenty-five, the Marquis du Deffand, who 
is now only remembered as the husband of his wife. Yet he 
did not occupy that position (except in name) for long. Soon 
after her marriage we find Madame du Deffand spoken of as 
the mistress of the Regent, the Duke of Orleans ; and although 
this is doubtful, she traded on the reputation for the rest of her 



life. Her second alleged liaison was with no less a man than 
Voltaire, whose acquaintance with her began in 1722, and 
lasted until his death nearly sixty years afterwards. Yet 
Madame du Deffand was careful in her amours ; she was never 
ostracised by her own class : " elle rietait jamais completement 
deconsideree" as they said. So early as 1730 she began her last 
and most faithful "attachment," that with Charles Francois 
Renault, President of the French Academy, the " old President " 
of Gilly Williams and the other members of Selwyn's circle. 
This was an extraordinary liaison. It was never very passionate 
or sentimental : " on ne saurait lui [H6nault] faire cette in- 
justice," observes Grimm ironically : but it was evidently based 
on a certain affinity of the mind. They attracted each other, 
these two, and not entirely on the physical plane. At all 
events the connection lasted, in its tepid, platonic, way, for 
nearly forty years, until Renault's death, indeed, in 1770. 
Renault was, on one side, a man of the world, a seeker after 
pleasure, a favourite with women ; on the other he was a grave 
savant, who discoursed with encyclopaedists and philosophers, 
and wrote serious works like " L'histoire Abrtgt Chronologique" 
There was something of the quack about this man. He 
belonged to the eternal type of those who know a little of 
everything and a little of everybody ; whose names are always 
in the papers ; who dabble in literature and art, and give 
lectures on subjects which they imperfectly understand. But 
he suited Madame du Deffand well enough, because he had no 
nonsensical views about love and the domestic virtues. As for 
Madame du Deffand herself, who shall paint her character? 
I always think of her as the Jane Welsh Carlyle of the Paris 
salons. Hers was a personality that glittered and sparkled 
like a diamond. She was brilliant, polished ; none could resist 
her brightness and her charm. She talked on an equality 
with Voltaire, and Montesquieu, and Rousseau, and D'Alembert. 
She wrote letters which, a hundred years later, gained the 
highest praise from the eclectic Sainte Beuve. And she had 
courage too: she lost her eyesight completely in middle life, 
yet it made no difference to her mode of living. She continued 
her salon ; she kept her old friends, and made many new, even 
of the fastidiousness of Mr Horace Walpole ; her " Sunday 
suppers " remained as popular as before. The world has 




THE DUCHESS DE CHOISEUL AND MADAME DU DEFFAND 

AFTER THE 1'ICTl'RE BY CARMONTEL 



SELWYN IN PARIS 187 

never seen anything quite like the sway exercised by this old 
blind woman over wits, philosophers, poets, men of fashion : 
everybody with whom she came in contact. Yet she had 
little joy in life ; it was to her an immense boredom. And 
why? Surely for the same reason that causes other people 
to find it a boredom : because they are selfish, self-centred, 
incapable of real affection. Madame du Deffand had many 
virtues ; but she was deficient in heart. When she lay on her 
death-bed, her faithful secretary, Wiart, who had served her 
for long years, stood beside her, blubbering. "And so you 
really love me ! " she exclaimed, in a kind of amazement. It 
was to her a novel idea. 

The history of Madame -du Deffand's salon began in 1753, 
when the lady established herself in the Convent St Joseph, Rue 
St Dominique. Here she quickly gathered about her a circle of 
the brightest spirits in France. It is impossible to do more 
than name some of the principal habitues of this distinguished 
nunnery. Among the women were the Mar^chale de Luxem- 
burg, the Mar6chale de Mirepoix, Madame la Duchesse de 
Choiseul, and the Marquise de Bouflflers. If, in all this 
company, you, like Thackeray at the court of George II., want 
" somebody to love," choose Madame de Choiseul. She was a 
charming and beautiful woman, of a deep, affectionate nature. 
" I am happy," she wrote once to Madame du Deffand, " et je 
ne m'ennuie pas" which was more than her correspondent could 
say. " You are happy," replied Madame du Deffand, " because 
you can feel, and you are content because your conscience has 
never given you the slightest reproach." Madame de Choiseul 
was one of the few aristocrats who lived through the Terror with- 
out quitting Paris. They could not touch that pure and gracious 
spirit. But by far the most romantic personality in the du 
Deffand circle was undoubtedly Mademoiselle Julie de L'Espin- 
asse, and the story of her connection with Madame du Deffand 
is the most romantic in the history of the salon. She came to 
the Convent of St Joseph in 1754, a young lady of fascinating 
manners, with something of the wildness of illegitimacy in her 
blood. She helped Madame du Deffand to do the honours ; 
received the guests if Madame was indisposed ; entertained 
them with her lively wit and humour. Now when a young and 
fascinating woman comes into competition with a woman who 



188 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

is also fascinating, but old, trouble of a varied kind may be ex- 
pected naturally to ensue. And trouble quickly developed in 
the du Deffand-L'Espinasse menage. The elder lady grew 
jealous ; thought that Julie was intriguing against her ; fancied 
that the wits and the philosophers were coming to see Julie when 
they ought to be paying their court to Julie's mistress. They 
slipped into the petit appartement and talked with twenty-six, 
before they adjourned to the salon and offered a perfunctory 
homage to sixty. After ten years the rupture came. Madame 
charged Mademoiselle Julie with treason ; words like deteste, 
abhorre, huinili,e'crasevfQYQ bandied about freely bet ween the two 
women ; Madame wept loudly more than once, and Julie took a 
dramatic dose of opium enough for a scene, but not enough to 
kill her. Finally the ladies separated, Julie establishing a 
salon of her own, and drawing several of the habitues of 
Madame du Deffand's salon with her, including D'Alembert and 
Marmontel. In 1776 Julie died, and Madame said coldly, on 
hearing of her death, "If she had died sixteen years ago, I 
shouldn't have lost D'Alembert." But you may read the story 
of Julie and Madame, written in exquisite English, in that fine 
novel of Mrs Humphrey Ward's, " Lady Rose's Daughter." So 
much for the women who haunted the Convent St Joseph in 
the Rue St Dominique. As for the men, one can only mention 
the names of Voltaire and Montesquieu, Renault, D'Alembert, 
Marmontel, Pont de Veyle, the Abbe Barthelemy, Horace 
Walpole, " Fish " Crawford, and George Selwyn ; and pass on. 
Yet the name of the Abbe Barthelemy tempts one. He was a 
friend of Selwyn's, as shall presently appear ; but he was also 
surely first cousin to the Vicar of Wakefield. When he was 
stationed at Marseilles he studied Arabic, and preached sermons 
in that language to Arab sailors from the East. But when the 
sailors came to confession the kindly cleric would shake his 
head, and inform them that he didn't understand the Arabic 
sin-vocabulary. And may we not mention Pont de Veyle, the 
tamest, the most spaniel-like, of Madame's followers ? Grimm 
gives us an imaginary conversation between the two which sheds 
a light upon the characters of both. " Pont de Veyle ! " 
" Madame ! " " Where are you ? " " By the fire." " Have you 
your feet on the fender in a homely sort of way ? " " Yes, 
Madame." "There are not many intimacies as old as ours!" 



SELWYN IN PARIS 189 

" That's true." " Fifty years old . . . and in all that time not 
a cloud, not even a cloudlet." "That has often struck me." 
" But Pont de Veyle, that wouldn't have happened only that at 
bottom we have always been quite indifferent to each other ! " 
"I daresay, Madame!" . . . Indifference was the note of the 
friendships of Madame du Deffand. 

George Selwyn's visits to Paris began, as we have seen, 
in the early days when, as an undergraduate of Oxford, he 
spent some months there in an impecunious condition. That 
was in 1742-1743. Between that date and 1779 we have the 
records of at least eight visits to Paris, and he probably paid 
many more of which we have no record at all. " I expected 
the date of my next letter from Paris," writes Gilly Williams 
to him so early as 1748, " for more than once you have travelled 
like the prophets in the Scripture, without scrip or purse, or 
changes of raiment." We know nothing, however, of the 
wandering of the prophet between 1748 and 1762; but in 
the latter year, on the 6th of September, George travelled 
to Paris in the train of the Duke of Bedford, who was sent 
to that city to conclude a treaty of peace with France. When 
the treaty was signed, by the way, Selwyn was " much obliged 
to the Duchess for the pen that signed it" so Henry Fox 
wrote to the Duke "which will be looked upon with veneration 
ages hence, for George is already taking care of its preserva- 
tion." It was at this time that George was "thought to have 
a better pronounciation than any one that ever came from 
this country " : but this was probably in his own estimation 
only. At this period of his life Selwyn seems to have visited 
practically Paris every year. Next year (1763) we find him 
there again (I wonder did he pass Doctor Smollett on the 
road?) obtaining all the London news from March and Gilly 
Williams. Gilly tells Selwyn that March has been entertain- 
ing "the Bouffler" to a breakfast and concert. We have no 
details of March's breakfast ; but it was during this visit of 
Madame de Boufflers to England that Topham Beauclerk 
brought her to see Dr Johnson in Inner Temple Lane, when 
he "heard a voice like thunder," and, looking back, saw 
Johnson in " a rusty-brown morning suit, a pair of old shoes 
by way of slippers, a little shrivelled wig on the top of his 
head, and the sleeves of his shirt and the knees of his breeches 



190 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

hanging loose " bent on attending the lady to her carriage. 
Selwyn remained in Paris all through the summer of 1763, 
"conversing" according to Gilly Williams, "with men of 
beard and wisdom, while Lord March and I are up half the 
night with people of a profligate character, singing the ' Blue 
Bells of Ireland ' and other songs equally impure and vulgar." 
Next year, however, Selwyn paid what was perhaps his longest 
visit to Paris. He seems to have crossed the Channel in 
April, after having first asked Captain Robert Digby, then 
in Paris, to obtain a house for him. Digby recommended 
his own lodgings, " a green appartement, au premier," at the 
Hotel de Tours ; but we do not know whether Selwyn took 
the hint and the rooms, or insisted upon a house. At all 
events we find him in the early summer of 1764 settled for 
a long stay in Paris. Lord March joined him in August, and 
the two young men proceeded to enjoy life, each in his fashion. 
Gilly Williams supplied them with the news from London : 
who was dead or dying, who had taken and also given up 
office, what was the latest fashionable marriage. There were 
the usual commissions. " Dick Cox is here and says, if you will 
buy him a set of dishes and plates of the blue and white china 
which you brought over last year for your mother, he will give 
you as many dinners off them as you will condescend to accept 
of." By September Selwyn's friends begin to expect him 
back. "This awaits your landing," writes Lord Holland in that 
month, sending him an invitation to Kingsgate, near Margate. 
But George had no intention of returning to England just then. 
By October Gilly Williams is beseeching him to " come and 
live among your friends, who love and honour you " ; in 
November, " I never write to you but that I hope it will be 
the last, and that we are to see you again in your native country, 
which," added Gilly slily, " has its charms " ; in December, 
" God bless you my dear George ! When you have nothing 
else to do, let me hear from you see you, I suppose I never 
shall " ; and in January, " It is not I alone, but all your friends, 
nay, the King himself, who have expressed themselves with 
some concern that you still continue to run after gewgaws and 
hunt butterflies, when your presence is absolutely wanted at 
Westminster. I have authority for mentioning the surprise 
of the Royal Personage." Still George remained in Paris, 



SELWYN IN PARIS 191 

kept there, it was said, not by Madame du Deffand but by 
Lord March, who was cultivating the half-world with his 
usual ardour. It was at this time that Gilly Williams put 
March up at the Old Club at White's, but "they swore he 
was now a foreigner and rejected him." Selwyn and March 
finally got back to London about the beginning of April, the 
former having been absent nearly a year. 

We have now reached 1765, an important date in the story of 
Selwyn's connection with Paris : for in that year Horace Wai- 
pole, after " procrastinating on this side of the water as much 
as March on the other," took his long-planned journey to the 
French capital, and was introduced to Madame du Deffand by 
George Selwyn. In December Walpole wrote from Paris to 
Selwyn, thanking him " for making over Madame du Deffand 
to me, who is delicious ; that is, as often as I can get her fifty 
years back, but she is as eager about what happens every day 
as I about the last century. I sup there twice a week, and 
bear all her dull company for the sake of the Regent." He 
has the usual acute remarks upon the various people whom he 
has met. " Your old flame, the Queen, was exceedingly kind 
to me at my presentation . . . Madame Geoffrin is extremely 
what I had figured her, only with less wit and more sense than 
I expected." " She has little taste and less knowledge," he tells 
the poet Gray " but protects artisans and authors." One of 
the authors whom Madame Geoffrin " protected " at this time 
was Edward Gibbon ; another was David Hume. Both these 
gentlemen probably thought themselves as independent as 
Mr Walpole. However, Walpole's introduction to Madame du 
Deffand was an important event in his own life. It began an 
intellectual liaison had Walpole ever any other kind ? which 
lasted until Madame's death in 1780. There was something 
humorous, something even a little contemptible, about this 
platonic intercourse. The parties to it were no longer young : 
Madame was sixty-eight, Mr Walpole nearly fifty. Both were 
old enough to know better than to carry on a correspondence 
which was full of sham love-making, sham confessions, sham 
emotion ; which was postured, superficial, affected. It was 
real in patches, of course ; as when Walpole offered Madame 
pecuniary help, and Madame nobly refused ("je ne suis pas 
dans le cas den avoir besoin "). But the other was the prevailing 



192 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

tone. These elderly pseudo-lovers numbered their letters, and 
carefully preserved them for the benefit of posterity. Now 
posterity enjoys the letters of Madame to Walpole ; but where 
are the letters of Walpole to Madame ? That was the question 
asked by the Athen&um in 1858, on the publication of Mr 
Peter Cunningham's edition of Walpole's letters, and it has 
never been satisfactorily answered. The fact is that Mr Wal- 
pole, beginning to be doubtful as to the view posterity might 
take of this correspondence, asked for, and obtained, all the 
letters he had written to Madame du Deffand. This was 
shortly before her death. Did Mr Walpole burn the letters ? 
If so, it was with many a pang. You can fancy him consigning 
Op. i, Op. 2, etc., to the flames with an agonised countenance, 
hesitating long between dread of ridicule and a pride in 
literary polish. Madame was not so particular ; but then she 
was a woman ; and women do not fear ridicule as men do. 
She had written a brilliant series of letters to her intellectual 
paramour, and she left them in his hands, as she left all her 
papers (he was her literary executor), and as she left her dog, 
Tonton. So we have the letters to-day. To read them is like 
wandering in a hothouse, where everything is stuffy, forced, 
artificial. You long for some common vigorous person to take 
his walking-stick and poke it through the window, and let in 
some fresh air. Now George Selwyn was a common vigorous 
person, with plenty of shrewd sense, and he probably used his 
walking-stick in the manner mentioned. You will find traces 
of that weapon in the Carlisle correspondence, in Selwyn's re- 
ferences to Madame du Deffand. Certain it is that his friend- 
ship with Madame cooled perceptibly after Walpole's began. 

After 1765 we begin to know more of Selwyn's doings in 
Paris, since his name occurs continually in Madame's letters to 
Walpole, to " Fish " Crawford, to Madame de Choiseul, and to 
others. In October 1766 he is again in the beloved city, this 
time with his young friend Lord Carlisle. " Little Mary [his 
great niece] complains that you promised to take her to France, 
and are gone without her." Gilly Williams begs " a truce of 
your nonsense of the regard and friendships you find where 
you are. ... It is all buckram, and I know you so well that I 
am sure you would have given up your princes, presidents, all 
your old blind women, and all your mad ones, to have passed 



SELWYN IN PARIS 193 

the twelve hours which I shall do here [Matson] before I get 
into my chaise for Bath to-morrow morning." On the ipth 
of October Madame du Deffand entertained George and his 
" petit milord " to supper, and George scared her by giving her 
a false report of " Fish " Crawford's death in Scotland. " Fish " 
Crawford was, of course, " the Fish " of the Selwyn letters, and 
the "Petit Crawford" of the du Deffand letters. He was 
Mr James Crawford, of Auchinames, a member of the Selwyn 
circle, and a very constant friend of Madame's. A little later 
we have a most interesting character sketch of Selwyn in a few 
lines by Madame herself, which tells us for the first time 
what that lady thought of him. Walpole had written to her 
concerning his friend : " of all the English whom you see in 
Paris, Mr Selwyn has the most wit. But you must draw him 
out ; you must make him speak bad French. He makes so 
many efforts to speak your tongue like a true academician, that 
he totally forgets to throw in the ideas. Cest beau vernis pour 
faire briller des riens " : to which Madame replied : " What you 
tell me of Mr Selwyn is perfect ; I add to it that he has only 
intellectual brilliancy (de Vesprit de tte\ and not a scrap of 
heart ; you will put into language much better than mine what 
I wish to say." Again she writes : " I am a little sorry to say 
good-bye to Mr Selwyn ; I have not seen him often ; he is 
amiable enough ; sarcastic too, but not, I think spiteful." She 
elaborates this sketch in a letter to her " petit Crawford " penned 
about the same time : " I am very far from thinking Mr Selwyn 
stupid, but he is often in the clouds. Nothing strikes him or 
wakens him save ridicule ; though he catches even that on the 
wing. His words are graceful and delicate, but he cannot 
carry on a conversation. He is distrait, indifferent. He would 
often be bored, but for an excellent recipe against boredom 
which he possesses : that of going to sleep whenever he wishes. 
It is a talent which I envy him ; if I had it, I should make 
good use of it. He is sarcastic without being spiteful ; formal, 
but polite ; he loves nothing and nobody but his Lord March ; 
one would never think of forming a close relationship with him, 
but one is very glad to meet him, and to be in the same room 
with him, although one has nothing to say to him." In default 
of Madame's full-length " portrait " of Selwyn, which does not 
survive, this sketch will serve very well to show us what the 

N 



194 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

lady thought of him. It is not wholly unlike George Selwyn ; 
and it is very characteristic of Madame du Deffand. George 
saw this estimate of himself, and perhaps he did not like it. 
"You have shown Mr Selwyn all I said about him," wrote 
Madame to Crawford in March 1767. " I don't quite remember 
what it was ; nothing bad, I am sure, because I was far from 
thinking evil of him. But I would have said much more 
good of him that I really think, if I had known he was to read 
it, had it only been to do credit to my discernment. I love Mr 
Selwyn, and I have all kinds of reasons for that ; he does not 
often laugh at me; I am indebted to him for many kind- 
nesses, I should be charmed to see him again." 

George lingered in Paris through the winter of 1766, despite 
many entreaties from Gilly Williams to return to his own 
country. " We hear of your falling asleep," says he, " standing 
at the Old President's, and knocking him, and three more 
old women into the fire." Perhaps Selwyn was interested in 
the Hume- Rousseau controversy then proceeding ; certainly 
Horace Walpole was, who started it by his unfortunate " letter 
to the King of Prussia," which Rousseau thought to have been 
written by Hume. " He talks of nothing else," said Gilly in 
the same letter. In December Gilly "cannot take leave of you, 
my dear George, without desiring you to remember that you 
are an Englishman." Lord Bolingbroke had similar advice to 
offer. "For God's sake return home," he writes. "Nature 
never meant you for a Frenchman. Burn your formal bag-wig, 
and put on your far more agreeable scratch." He asks him to 
bring with him " two or three pair laced ruffles " and " a suit of 
plain velvet. By plain is meant without gold and silver ; as to 
the colour, the pattern, and design of it, he relies upon Mr 
Selwyn's taste." But " there is nothing Mr Selwyn can import 
from France that will give Lord Bolingbroke half the satisfac- 
tion as the immediate importation of himself ; for no one, neither 
the Queen of France nor the President Henault, can possibly 
admire Mr Selwyn more, or love him with half the sincerity 
and warmth as his obedient humble servant, B." George finally 
"remembered he was an Englishman" on the i8th of January, 
on which day he left Paris " charge de deux paquets pour vous," 
wrote Madame to Walpole. But if he executed all his com- 
missions, his packets were more than two. One of Madame's 



SELWYN IN PARIS 195 

gifts to Walpole was a character sketch, or " portrait " of 
" Grand Mam'an " i.e. Madame de Choiseul, their very good 
common friend. These " portraits " of Madame du Deffand were 
equally famous in England and in France. 

George stayed in London for the parliamentary session, but 
was back again " dans ce cher Paris " in August of the same 
year. He had March to keep him company, and Walpole too, 
though Walpole left early in October and advised Selwyn 
to " come away the first fine day." Yet the visit was, for some 
reason or other, not a success. " I understand you will leave 
Paris this year with mains de regret than ever," wrote Lady 
Sarah Bunbury to him. "What is the reason of that? Is 
Madame de Deffand unkind ? " The truth is he was growing 
tired of Madame du Deffand. " Poor Selwyn left yesterday 
[i2th November] at 5," wrote that lady to Walpole, "he did 
not wish to see me at all. He wrote me a little grumpy note." 
When he returned to London he was in no hurry to write to 
Madame in Paris. " I haven't had a word from Mr Selwyn," 
she tells Walpole in December. " Is it because I have bored 
him also de mes tendressest I am in truth an absurd old woman." 
Madame's tendresses would probably have bored most healthy 
Britons ; they were more suited to Walpole's type. Indeed, 
George was weary of the flirtation. " I have a long letter, 
almost every week from my flame also," he writes to Carlisle in 
January 1768, " Mme. du Deffands, 1 but these are passions 
which non in seria ducunt. She is very importunate to me 
to return to Paris, by which (?) if there is any sentiment it must 
be all of her side. I should not be sorry to make another 
sojourn there ; but if I did, and it was with you, I should 
not throw away with old women and old Presidents, which 
is the same thing, some of those hours which I regret very 
much at this instant." A most ungallant and ungracious letter, 
but it was written to young Lord Carlisle, who had probably 
been charring him upon his elderly admirer. Carlisle was 
at this time on the Grand Tour, and on his way back he called 
at Paris, where he supped constantly with the " old blind 
woman." Once Selwyn had enclosed in his packet to Carlisle 
a short note (" three lines ") to Madame, who was so charmed 
with it that she sent it on to Madame de Choiseul, who read it 
1 Always so spelt by Selwyn. 



196 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

out at Fontainebleau " in a great circle." This vexed Selwyn 
considerably, who was always morbidly anxious that his letters 
should be burned as soon as read. He complained to Madame, 
who replied in her spirited way : " I have only shewn one of your 
letters, five or six lines long, and very charming. You told me, 
' I write you when the fancy takes me, and the fancy took 
me on Friday!' Could that make you ridiculous? It is only 
in England you need fear ridicule ; in all other countries you 
are safe from it, and particularly in France, and still more 
particularly in my special circle. Your letters are thrown into 
the fire as soon as I have replied to them. Besides, your 
prudence leaves you nothing to be afraid of; the journals 
give me much more news than your letters. So my dear 
Lindor " Madame's pet name for Selwyn " the fears that you 
display have rather the air of seeking a quarrel with me, which 
would be unfair. I am charmed with your correspondence ; 
but I only desire it so long as it is agreeable to yourself." 
One is bound to admit that Madame could administer this 
sort of gentle rebuke in the most delightful and delicate 
fashion. 

After 1767, George Selwyn did not see Paris again for 
eleven years. I suppose he grew more lazy with the coming of 
middle age, more content with White's and the good houses 
of England. In December 1768 he has almost made up his 
mind to another visit. " Tell me if I shall take lodgings for 
you," writes young Carlisle in his enthusiastic way. "Where 
shall I take them ? If you disappoint me I shall be furious. 
The blind woman is in raptures." But this was a false alarm : 
George could not tear himself away from England. He still, 
however, kept up his connection with Paris by a correspondence 
scanty and infrequent with the old blind woman, and by 
letters from friends staying there. " Madame Geoffrin m'a 
chante" la palinode," writes Charles James Fox to him in 1770. 
" I dine there to-day ; she enquires after you very much. I 
have supped at Madame du Deffand's, who asked me if I was 
deja sous la tutele de M. Selvin ? I boasted that I was." 
"Madame du Deffand complains that you neglect her," he says 
in another place, which was quite probable, though it did not 
trouble Madame excessively : nothing troubled her much then 
or at any time. She lost the President Henault in November 



SELWYN IN PARIS 197 

1770, and controlled her feelings in the most praiseworthy 
manner. " I have so many proofs of his want of friendship," 
she tells Walpole, " that I believe I have only lost an acquaint- 
ance. ... I have renounced the pomps and vanities of this 
world ; you have made a perfect proselyte of me ; I have all 
your scepticism on the subject of friendship." Admirable 
master, and admirable pupil ! We find little mention of 
Selwyn in her letters, or in anybody's letters so far as Paris 
is concerned for some years after 1770 In 1772 Madame 
would be " very glad to see Lindor again ; his faculty of falling 
asleep when he is bored makes his society very convenient ; 
I wish all my visitors had the same faculty." But again 
Lindor was not to be enticed. In 1775 Walpole was in 
Paris, and reported to Selwyn upon Madame in the rather 
shamefaced tone he adopted when writing to his friend about 
that lady. " Madame du Deffand would have been more pleased 
with your message, which I delivered immediately, if she had 
greater faith in it: yet when (Fish) Crawford and I come so 
often, how can she doubt her power of attraction ? If possible, 
she is more worth visiting than ever. So far am I from 
being ashamed of coming hither at my age, that I look upon 
myself as being wiser than one of the Magi, when I travel to 
adore this Star in the East. The star and I went to the Opera 
last night, and when we came from Mme. La Valliere's at one 
in the morning, it wanted to drive about the town, because it 
was too early to set. To be sure, you and I have dedicated our 
decline to very different occupations. You nurse a little girl 
of four years old, and I rake with a woman of fourscore. 
N'importe : We know many sages that take great pains to 
pass their time with less satisfaction. . . ." And we hear of 
" Tonton " for the first time. u Mme. du Deffand has got a 
favourite dog that will bite all their noses off" ; evidently a 
much more ferocious animal than Raton, Selwyn's pet. It 
was not until 1778, when Selwyn visited Paris on his way to 
Italy, 1 that the old friendship with Madame du Deffand was 
renewed. He arrived on the 26th of April 1778. France 
was on the eve of war with England ; but in those days 
a fact like that perturbed English travellers in France very 
little. 

Chapter XII, 



198 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

" I do not imagine " (Selwyn writes to Mary Townshend l on 
the loth of May) "that at this moment either Lord North or 
M. de Maurepas, or the friends of M. de Choiseul or even the 
omniscient Jackson could tell me if we shall have a war, and 
much less how long it will last. I take it for granted that that 
must be decided by what happens on the other side of the 
Atlantic. . . . 

" I have now seen or visited all who remain of my former 
acquaintance" (he goes on). " I have received every degree of 
civility I could expect, as well as every appearance of friend 
ship, which really they act so well, some of them, that it is 
almost as good as the original. [Was this a hit at Madame 
du Deffand ? ] . . . The Tourbillon in which I have lived, of 
suppers, visits, and protestations of attachment, shops, com- 
missions, and all the remise, menage, and tout amasse (f] of a great 
town, makes me wish myself upon the top of Mount Cenis in 
my wicker chair." 

But he had time to visit the old blind woman, shortly after 
the last visit paid to her by Voltaire. 

" That rascal [Benjamin] Franclin has putt notions into their 
head, which I hope have no foundation. I have not seen him or 
Voltaire. I would not go in search of either, if they had come in 
my way, well. Voltaire has been twice at Madame du Deffand's. 
The first time he was very good company, and so was she. It was 
bien attaque"e, bien defendu, et toute la conversation piquante et 
interessante au dernier point, but the second time, 1'ennui en 
etait affreuse. They got into philosophical reflections upon 
the misery of human life, which tired everybody." 

In reference to this visit Madame wrote to Walpole : " I 
had a visit yesterday from Voltaire. I put him at his ease by 
refraining from reproaches. He stayed an hour, and was 
infinitely amiable." Voltaire died on the 3Oth of May 1778. 

" As to Mme. du Deffands herself" (continues Selwyn), " she 
is not viellie" d'un jour, and they are so good as to say that I 
am not changed neither in any respect, and that they are glad 
of it. I know the contrary, for I know that I have onze ans 
de plus, and I believe, onze dents de moins. But I have 
enough left to confine my tongue, which I wish my country- 
men would consider also, but they tell them everything they 
know, or don't know. I was afraid that I had lost my language 
1 Marsham-Townshend MSS. 



SELWYN IN PARIS 199 

or theirs, more properly speaking. But Mme. du Deffands 
says, au contraire, il me parait que vous parlez avec plus de faci- 
lit et moins d'accent que jamais ; that may be true or not, I do 
not much care. . . . Mme. du Deffands has a carpet fort veloute. 
I forget what we call that sort of carpet, it is a manufacture 
with us, introduced a few years ago. She wants to cover the 
whole room with it, which is about twenty feet square. The 
colours must be jaune et Crameris chiefly. She wants to know 
the price of such a carpet. Shall I give you the trouble to ask 
and to send me word? If you direct to me chez Mme. du 
Deffand, a lei Communaute de St Joseph, Rue St Dominique, 
she will open the letter, which I mean only to be the tapissier's 
answer to that question, either in French or English which you 
please, for if in English, Wiart, her maitre d'Hotel, will trans- 
late it for her. But how she will then get it over I know not, 
for I know that M. le Controleur General is fort difficile a 
ferrer, and although we sup at his house often, he would do 
nothing for us about that. But if you can buy for me at 
Pickering's a pound of the best Hyson tea, and send it by 
anybody who comes here, to be carried to her, I should be glad. 
I do not know what to send them here for all their civilities." 

Selwyn did not spend all his time in the Rue St Dominique 
upon this occasion. 

" I was the day before yesterday with the Marechal Bison 
in his garden, he had thirty-six persons at dinner. . . . The 
Marshal's garden, dans son genre, is the finest you ever saw, 
and the greatest quantity of fruit in it. ... He keeps the best 
table, in short, on ne peut parler trop longtemps de Monsieur 
le Marechal. But I took the liberty to give him my opinion 
how his garden could be improved, dont il parut ne m'en savoir 
trop bon gre. The gravel is the worst in the world, and it is 
rare to have any gazon where the verdure is good, or well-kept. 
I have never yet seen a roler. Now the Marechal has plat 
ferme, and gravel walks, and his gazon very beautiful ; but he 
chooses that you should walk up to your ankles in bad gravel, 
and has very little of the other." 

George delivering a lecture upon gardening is an engaging 
picture. He concludes with a patriotic outburst : 

" I have told everybody what a vigorous defence we are 
making in England, in case they come there, but ils pensent a 
rien moins qu'a cela. I am afraid of nothing but that Gun- 



200 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

powder Destains, 1 and Rodney tells me I need not be afraid of 
him. 

" I must own that I wish these people to be well drubbed. . . ." 

Coming back from Milan, Selwyn was very attentive to 
Madame du DefTand, who was then, it must be remembered, 
eighty-one years of age. " He has called every day," she told 
Walpole. 

[SELWYN to MARY TOWNSHEND, 3oth October 1778] 

" Mme. du Deffands is to receive this morning all the 
letters she wrote to Voltaire. I think his and hers make up 
three or four hundred. She is pestered to print them but will 
not. I suppose the publick will not wait long for them. But 
I called upon her two nights ago and she had gone to sup out 
of town." 

On his return to London, however, his letters were "very 
irritating. He promises to tell me many things, and tells me 
nothing ; he only trifles. He pretends that you [Walpole] 
wished to let me have some of his bon-mots, but that you 
couldn't translate them." In the following year, 1779, Selwyn 
paid his last visit to Paris, and said farewell to his old blind 
friend. We were then at war with France, and he asked 
Madame du Deffand to use her good offices in obtaining his pass- 
port. She also tried to procure a house for him, but eventually 
he lodged in the Hotel de Bourbon. Selwyn arrived on the 
I4th April. "He came to the door of the salle manger" 
(Madame to Walpole) "and as he was in morning dress did 
not enter. Next day, Thursday, he came at noon ; he brought 
me your book, some tea, and some small scissors for which I 
gave him a commission. I expect him this evening to supper. 
. . . Friday he came to supper, and brought me razors for 
my nephew, and some fans at twelve sous each ; he played at 
loto, and stopped to talk with Mme. de Beauveau, Mme. de 
Cambise, and me ; he told us all his projects, his fears, his 
hopes. . . ." It is pleasant to find George on such good terms 
with the old lady so near to the end of her life. In reading 
these letters of Madame to Walpole one would imagine that 
she was in the best of health and spirits. But it was not so. 
1 The French admiral, D'Estaing. 



SELWYN IN PARTS 201 

[SELWYN to MARY TOWNSHEND, 2oth May 1779] 

" I think my friend Mme. du Deffands declines very much. 
But last night, although she had not been out of her bed for 
two days, she had company ; twenty were playing in her bed- 
chamber, and ten at supper in the next room. The hot victuals 
were brought to her in her bed, and she played at loto by sub- 
stitute, and directed by memory." 

There is a picture for the moralist : this astonishing old 
woman of eighty-two, sick, blind, playing cards in bed at mid- 
night, before a room full of people. You cannot grow senti- 
mental about the old age of Madame, consecrated as it was to 
eating and drinking and being merry, lacking as it was in most 
of the things that give life grace and dignity. Yet not in all of 
such things : for there was a kind of desperate courage in it ; 
an adherence to standards of conduct which she had always 
observed ; a resolution to remain to the end as she had been 
from the beginning. ' " Friendship, love, truth, goodness ? " we 
can imagine her arguing " I do not believe in them. What I 
do believe in is intelligence, good humour, patience, evenness of 
temper ; and after that in the enjoyment of life to the utmost 
of one's power." She kept (and practised) her philosophy to 
the end, which is more than can be said for some philosophers. 
Nor assuredly can we grow sentimental over the last stages of 
the long friendship between Madame and George Selwyn. 
Beneath the surface of this friendship there was always a 
certain mutual distrust, arising from the fact that Selwyn 
doubted the sincerity of Madame du Deffand, and that Madame 
knew that he doubted it. This note remained to the end. On 
the 1 5th of June 1779 Selwyn left Paris, and for the last time. 
" I regret him much," wrote Madame to Walpole, " he leaves us 
content enough with me." " I don't know," she says again, 
" what account Lindor will give of me. He has said many 
pretty things, has made a thousand protestations of friendship ; 
all that was like ice. . . . He has wit, no doubt, but it is neither 
wide in range, nor profound, nor even agreeable, unless he is 
suddenly inspired. . . . Ah, mon ami! que les gens aimables 
sont rares ! It is useless to look for them ; one must learn how 
to get on without them." On 3rd December she complains to 
Walpole at the absence of letters from " Lindor." " He is a 



202 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

curious creature," she remarks ; " only you and your young 
duke [Richmond] observe the ritual of friendship ; all the 
other English disdain even the appearance of it." Almost the 
last reference to Selwyn in her correspondence is a similar 
complaint. " Why does Selwyn keep his promises so badly ? 
What better proof can he give me of his friendship and his 
gratitude than that of keeping me supplied with news ? " This 
was in December 1779. It is only fair to Selwyn to say that he 
had other business on hand to take his attention. But his 
correspondence with Madame had never the ardour and 
spontaneity of Walpole's. This strange old Madame du 
Deffand died on the 24th of August 1780, plucky and worldly 
to the end. " Je n'ai rien & regretter," she said on her death- 
bed. With her death we may well conclude this chapter ; for 
after that event Paris knew George Selwyn no more. 



CHAPTER XI 

"MIE MIE" 

GEORGE SELWYN'S love for children has been 
referred to already in our discussion upon his lack 
of love for women. He was never without a child- 
sweetheart apparently. " Heaven is remarkably indulgent to 
you," once wrote Gilly Williams, " to secure you a nursery in 
perpetuo. The moment the old one is fledged, and takes to 
wing, you have another, with clouts, and a pap-spoon, to which 
you are equally attentive." " What stuff is this ! " was George's 
half-angry comment ; but it was very near to the truth, never- 
theless. For a long time Selwyn took an affectionate interest 
in the Coventry children, as we have seen. Jesse prints a pretty 
little French letter of Lady Anne Coventry's (aged five) to 
Selwyn, thanking him for the present " que vous avez le bonte 
de nous envoyer. Nous esperons," she adds, " que vous tiendrez 
la promesse que vous nous avez faite de nous venir voir ici." 
At another time Selwyn directed his affection to the Carlisle 
children, Caroline and George, who called him " Coffee " (this 
is highly descriptive), and generally looked upon him as a good- 
natured and benevolent uncle. But the real love of his life was 
given to the little girl whom he, and everybody in his circle, 
called " Mie Mie," but who is known to readers of Burke and 
Debrett as Maria Fagnani, afterwards Marchioness of Hertford. 
This was George Selwyn's romance. It came to him late in 
life : he was fifty-two when Mie Mie was born ; but it was 
none the less genuine because the hero was a man of middle 
age and the heroine a child in short frocks. It is hard to think 
of a finer romance than this, where there were devotion and 
innocence, tragedies of parting, and joys of meeting again. 
History is full of the other kind of romance : that between man 
and woman, in which passion and selfishness, the desire of the 
eyes and the lust of the flesh, are called by noble and generous 
names, and held up by the historian for the everlasting approval 
of posterity. But the man of sixty and the girl of ten ! There 
203 



204 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

is a romance touched with the incomparable purity of childhood. 
Selwyn would have it that there was nothing strange in the 
story ; it angered him when people discussed it as though it 
were a conundrum or a problem in metaphysics. Perhaps he 
was right, and it is we who are strange who think it so. One 
of the finest things Madame du Deffand ever said (no doubt 
she was profoundly conscious of its fineness) she said in writing 
to Walpole about Selwyn and Mie Mie. " Y a-t-il bien loin de 
la a 1'amour de Dieu, tel que 1'entendent les Quietistes ? " That 
was a just criticism, addressed, however, to a man who was no 
authority upon the love referred to. 

Maria Fagnani was born on the 25th of August 1771* Her 
mother was the Marchioness Fagnani, wife of an Italian noble- 
man whose family belonged to Milan. The Marchioness appears 
to have been a woman not above suspicion. Contemporary 
opinion, for example, agreed in thinking that, whoever Maria's 
father was, he was not the Marquis Fagnani. The same opinion 
was inclined to fix paternity upon either George Selwyn or his 
friend Lord March, probably because both these gentlemen took 
a considerable interest in the child. But neither Selwyn nor 
March ever admitted paternity (at least in writing) : so that the 
question has to be decided on the balance of probabilities. The 
two men appear to have been acquainted with Madame Fagnani 
soon after her arrival in this country, in or about 1770. On 
Selwyn's death in 1791 The Gentleman's Magazine said in the 

course of its obituary notice : " When the Marchioness F , 

an Italian lady of great beauty, left London about thirty years 
ago [this was ten years " out "] she stopped at Dartford, and 
sent for the Duke of Queensberry and George Selwyn. The 
gentlemen attended her, and finding her purpose, endeavoured 
to persuade her to return. She withstood their entreaties, but 
left with them her infant, whom Mr Selwyn took under his 
protection, and always treated with the affection of a father. 
This anecdote is mentioned without any disrespect to the lady, 
whose conduct towards Mr Selwyn procured her the esteem of all 
his friends, and whose company is acceptable in the most fashion- 
able circles." The anecdote, however, is, in Dr John Warner's 

1 In most works of reference, and in all the books about Selwyn, the 
name is wrongly spelt " Fagniani." The spelling in the text is the correct 
Italian form. 



MIE MIE 205 

words, " not worth noticing." We do not know when George 
Selwyn first met Madame Fagnani. But this we can say with 
certainty, that there is not a scrap of evidence to show that 
Selwyn either was, or believed himself to be, the father of 
Madame Fagnani's child. The evidence is all the other way. 
A priori, the thing is unlikely : Selwyn's aversion from women 
has already been pointed out. But we search his letters in vain 
for any shadow of a suggestion that he himself was Mie Mie's 
father. On the contrary, he denies it by implication many 
times ; and once at least he denies it explicitly : 

[GEORGE SELWYN to MARY TOWNSHEND, i3th June I778] 1 

" It is an insuperable difficulty to make people comprehend 
that one can love another person's child as much as one's own, 
although it is in common speech often allowed. If that was 
once admitted, I should expect that no one would think extra- 
ordinary what I have done and suffered and exposed myself to 
for her sake. If poor Mie Mie had been avowedly mine, I 
should desire to have my conduct judged by Lady Midleton's 
feeling. But why or how I happened to love her at first, I 
cannot well describe, but by that chain of circumstances which 
I have never sought for, but coming in my way, made too much 
impression on my sensibility. It was really a Scrape for me, 
but if it was an Escape for her, I am contented. I shall finish 
my life with satisfaction if, of the two, I happen to have been 
the only sufferer." 

This, of course, is not absolutely conclusive ; but it is con- 
clusive enough for ordinary sane men. Lord March, however, 
cannot be exculpated so easily. It is significant that we first hear 
of Madame Fagnani in connection with a shopping commission 
given by this nobleman to a friend in Paris on her behalf. 

" I carried Madame Fagnani's letter to Madame Thiery, 
marchande de gaze," writes Henry St John to Selwyn on 
22nd December 1770. "She said she could not make the 
gaze ... in less than six weeks or two months. . . . You will 
inform Lord March of this, as he gave me the commission." 
And in the following August it is March who reports Mie Mie's 
birth to Selwyn : " Last night Madame Fagnani was brought 
to bed of a girl. They wished it had been a boy ; however, cette 
petite princesse heritera les biens de la famille; so that they 
1 Marsham-Townshend MSS. 



206 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

are all very happy." Again, March seems to have taken charge 
of the child soon after its birth. " I am enchanted to learn that 
my daughter is in good health," writes Madame Fagnani to 
Selwyn in July 1772, "though I fear she will suffer much in 
cutting her teeth. I venture to beg of you to continue to give 
me tidings of her, as without your kindness in writing to me 
from time to time I should have been ignorant, for the last 
three months, of the fate of ma petite. My Lord, on his part, 
is a little indolent ; but I forgive him this little fault on account 
of the many good qualities of his heart which he has to counter- 
balance it. ... Pray present my compliments to Lord March, 
and tell him I expect to hear from him." This affectionate 
parent was very much at ease about her daughter, aged eleven 
months. March's concern for the child extended to her early 
education. " My Lord March hinted to me," writes a certain 
Alexander Crauford, of Richmond, to Selwyn, " the last time I 
had the honour of seeing him, his intention of placing dear 
Mie Mie at a boarding school not far from town." Finally, 
Lord March continued to take a paternal interest in Mie Mie 
for the remainder of his life ; and on his death bequeathed her 
the substantial sum of 150,000, and made her husband residuary 
legatee. This may have been due entirely to his friendship for 
George Selwyn ; but, on the whole, the probabilities are that, 
if Mie Mie was not legitimate, Lord March was her father. 
The saving clause is necessary ; because, after all, the common- 
place solution of the mystery may be the true one, as it so often 
is. Certainly Selwyn always wrote and spoke as if Mie Mie's 
father was the husband of her mother : even in his will he 
describes her as " the daughter of the Marquis and Marchioness 
Ffagnani." In any case the point is, for us, one of small im- 
portance. It is sufficient if we deny vigorously the alleged 
paternity of George Selwyn. 

But Selwyn began to take an interest in the child probably 
through his association with March from her very early days. 
When she is aged eleven months he is reporting to her mother 
on the great teething question. When she is still less than 
three years old he tells Carlisle that he is determined to lose no 
time " in settling for my dear Mie Mie that which may be 
the only thing done for her " ; in other words, in making 
his will in her favour. " My affection and anxiety about her," 



MIE MIE 207 

he says, "are beyond conception." In 1775 March and Selwyn 
were competing amicably these two middle-aged, unromantic 
bachelors in their attentions to this young lady of four : 
March was thinking of sending her to boarding school ; while 
Selwyn took her to Richmond for a few weeks for change and 
fresh air. He draws a pleasing picture of himself in a letter to 
Carlisle, " writing in my garden, and Mie Mie at work in it, and 
I have ordered them to bring my dinner here, which I shall have 
on my grass plat, under an apple tree." By 1776 March seems 
to have placed himself hors concours ; and Selwyn proudly 
assumed entire control of the infant. He decided to send her 
to school, and, after much anxious thought, and many con- 
sultations with lady friends, he selected Mrs Terry's establish- 
ment at Campden House, Kensington. Here he watched over 
her with the most assiduous care. "Mrs Terry presents her 
compliments to Mr Selwyn : has the pleasure to assure him 
that dear Mademoiselle Fagnani is as well to-day as her good 
friend could possibly wish her to be. She is this minute 
engaged in a party at high romps." " Mrs Terry presents her 
best compliments to Mr Selwyn : is very sorry to find that 
he is so uneasy. The dear child's spirits are not depressed. 
She is very lively : ate a good dinner : and behaves just like 
other children." Mrs Terry must indeed have been a little 
embarrassed by the fussiness of Mr Selwyn. He would call 
at the school and stay " his hour " on the days set apart for 
visitors. On other days he would send anxious notes to 
inquire how the dear child was, and whether she slept well or 
ill. When the holidays came Selwyn would take Mie Mie to 
" Brighthelmstone " for the bathing, or to Chislehurst for the 
fresh country air. These were halcyon times for Selwyn and 
his little maid. 

They did not last long. In the same year in which Mie Mie 
was placed at school with Mrs Terry, Madame Fagnani began 
to hint to Selwyn that he must soon give her up to her 
affectionate parents. They had been separated from her quite 
long enough, it appeared. They would shortly be returning to 
Italy, and the dear child must return with them ; her grand- 
parents particularly desired it. Selwyn was in despair. He 
had already decided to adopt Mie Mie, and he could not or 
would not believe that the Fagnanis would assert their para- 



208 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

mount claim. However, he had an interview with Madame 
Fagnani in August 1776, when a compromise was arrived at. 
Madame agreed to leave Mie Mie in England under Selwyn's 
care for a year ; but after that she was definitely to be sent 
home to Milan. Selwyn was satisfied, for the time being. He 
had a year before him, and he was entreated by his friends to 
make the best of it. But Selwyn was so constituted that he 
could not " make the best " of things : he could not live in, and 
enjoy, the moment, but was always anticipating misfortune. 
The shadow of parting with Mie Mie, therefore, hung over him 
during that grace of twelve months, and was reflected in his 
letters to his friends. To do him justice, Madame Fagnani 
never failed to impress upon Selwyn the absolute finality of 
her decision. " As a friend I advise you, while there is time 
before you, to prepare yourself by degrees for the worst." Poor 
Selwyn was doing all he could in this direction. But he had 
also some idea at the back of his brain that, in some way or 
other, he might even yet prevent Mie Mie's departure from 
England. This probably accounted for the peremptory tone of 
Madame's letters to him. " I feel your affliction very deeply, 
and I can assure you that I share it. It is not my intention to 
make a merit of it, but it is my duty to tell you that I have 
made a last effort with my parents with a view to procure your 
happiness. . . . To this I have received a very cold reply, and 
one which was very contrary to my wishes. . . . There only 
remains for you to wish my death and that of my husband, for 
then, perhaps, you might keep Mie Mie some months longer : 
as to keeping her for good, all hope is out of the question." 
Selwyn asked Lord March to use his influence with Madame 
for him ; but March had " no opinion of his credit there." 
Meanwhile, Selwyn's letters to his friends were in sombre vein. 

[To MARY TOWNSHEND] 1 

" Monday night \circ. June i, 1777] 

" I find by a note which I received this evening from your 
brother, that you have expectations at Frognal of my making 
you a visit and bringing with me the Abbe Reynal. 2 It is true 
that I asked Charles, if he thought that such a companion 

1 This and the following letters are from the Marsham-Townshend MSS. 

2 William Francis Reynal, the well-known writer. He was the " infidel " 
with whom Dr Johnson would not shake hands. 




"MIE MIE" 

FROM THE PORTRAIT BY ROMNEY 



MIE M1E 209 

would afford any entertainment to Mr Townshend, and he said 
yes, as he believed ; but I was not determined as to the scheme 
or the time : and should certainly not have taken you by 
surprise. I think a day or two's preparation at least might be 
necessary for the reception of such an Erudite, and I should 
have known first Mr Townshend's inclination about it, particu- 
larly as to the time. But to speak the truth, I have not a day 
to bestow upon learning or learned persons, and much less 
spirits, I have had one visit from the Abbe which I have 
returned, but I believe that he is so much engrossed by my Lord 
Sheilbourne, and such other Maecenas's. But I shall have but 
little of his company. I propose to go to Matson for six weeks, 
and the day which I have fixed for setting out is on Sunday 
seven night next ; before that I hope to make you one or two 
visits for a few hours, but I question if I shall trouble you 
longer at present. I believe that I might act more like a wise 
man if I began to wean myself from what I must so soon lose. 
But I am not wise, or pretend to be so, and wisdom in circum- 
stances like mine, is to me very suspect. I am apt to think 
that where the passions are concerned, there is not such a 
difference between one person and another as is pretended by 
those who when they cease to feel an impulse, are desirous to 
have it thought that by good sense they have resisted it. I am 
very ready to own that having been, I do not know how, 
betrayed into an attachment, which as it appeared to have 
nothing blameful in it, I therefore rather indulged, I am now, 
by adverse circumstances and interests absolutely opposite to 
mine, as much as their feeling, made extremely unhappy, and 
it is the least that can be said of it, to call it a scrape. I thank 
you very much for acquainting me with my mother's being so 
well. I hope to hear that she continues to be so, and excepting 
this absence of six weeks shall hereafter be at no great distance 
from you, and ready to give you and the family as much of my 
company as you will be troubled with. ... I beg my best love to 
them all, and my duty to my mother. I should be glad to 
make my visits to her more frequent but I would never come 
to her, but when I was as cheerful as possible, and I am very 
much afraid that she will perceive that I cannot be so, and shall 
be very awkward in assuming the air of it. I ask pardon for 
this little e*panchement d'un cceur qui est fort gros, et triste. 
But I cannot help speaking of what is constantly the subject 
of my thoughts, and I believe when I am speaking to you of 
what I feel, it is to one whose natural sensibility will encline 
you to pity me, as much as the regard which you have always 
expressed to one who is ever most affectionately yours." 



210 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

"Friday night \circ. June 1777] 

" My setting out for Matson still stands for Sunday seven- 
night, so between this and that day I am desirous to make a 
visit to Frognal and for as many hours as can be contrived. 
Mrs Townshend before you left London invited Miss Louisa 
Selwyn, Mie Mie and I, to dine at Chicelhurst. You say that 
Mie Mie and I may come together to Frognal. On ne peut pas 
disputer des gents, but to speak the truth her company is to me 
more eligible than that of a savant's now I have a party to 
propose. But you must lett me know very truly and very 
exactly how it can be arranged. Suppose for example, that 
Miss S. and I sett out with Mie Mie to dine at Chiselhurst as 
Mrs Townshend proposed in order to return at night to London. 
But if there was a bed for Miss Louisa at your brother's and 
at Frognal one for me, and another for Mie Mie and her maid to 
lie together, or Miss Louisa to lie at Frognal and Mie Mie and 
her maid in the bed at Chiselhurst, then we would not return 
hither till next day. This I should like better than two expedi- 
tions to Frognal next week. But pray tell me, how this will 
accord with your convenience, and lett me know if we shall go 
on Sunday or return on Monday or sett out on Monday and 
return on Tuesday morning or if beds are to be out of the 
question, which day, Sunday or Monday, will be best for our 
going to dinner. I send you this by a special messenger 
because the post does not admitt of an answer in time. . . . 

" Now for news. 

" Lord Carlisle accepts of Sir John Shelley's staff which is to 
be taken gently out of his hands upon the conclusion of this 
session. They give Mr Ekins, L d- C.'s Tutor a living of .1100 
a year, I forget the name of it. It is in the North, and was held 
by the late Bishop of Oxford as I am told. This doucer to 
Ekins recommends the other to Lord Carlisle, and it is not to 
lose the opportunity of obliging his Tutor that he accepts the 
other, so Ekins whose living at Morpeth proves to be 700 a 
year, will now have 1800 a year in preferment. 

" Welbore Ellis is to have the place of Treasurer of the Navy, 
and C. Townshend Welbore's place. I do not hear who goes 
to the Treasury. Coll. Keene is to have Worseley's place who 
is dying, and Mr de Grey the Board of Trade, Sir R. Payne the 
Green Cloth in the room of the late Mr de Grey. C. Fox 
expects Sir W. Meredith to breakfast with him and thereby 
insinuates a defalcation from him. This is all I know of Politics. 
I am afraid of speaking about news from America, although 
what I have heard is good and that all individuals which we 
care for are well. But I never will say anything upon that 



MIE MIE 211 

subject that is not very authentic, and I do not hear of any- 
thing of consequence having happened from those who have 
brought the latest intelligence. 

" Pray be very sincere in your answer about my lying at 
Frognal, the lying or not lying in the country is not very 
material, and a tout evenement, I can send Miss L. back with 
Mie Mie and the maid in the coach to London, and go myself 
in a post chaise the next morning. Adieu, my duty to my 
mother and love to all the rest." 

Early in June Selwyn and Mie Mie left London for their 
short holiday at Matson. 

[To MARY TOWNSHEND] 

" MATSON 
"Tuesday, isth July [1777] 



" I do not know the precise point of our correspondence, 
and whether I have not been a great while in your debt for 
a letter. 

" We are all here very glad that your accounts of the family 
at Frognal are so good, and nobody more so than my poor 
little Mie Mie. Her allowance of wine, as you may suppose, 
is a very small one, but it is all drunk to improve your health. 
I ask pardon for having wrote to you so melancholy a letter 
but I could not help it, or ever shall when I think of that 
child be otherwise than fort triste. J'en suis sur. We propose 
to leave this place next Monday to lie that night at Oxford ; 
dine next day at Ld. Boston's, lie in the neighbourhood, that is 
at Maidenhead Bridge, and so be in London to-morrow seven- 
night. You shall hear more of me from thence. I beg my 
duty to my mother and my love to all the rest. Miss Selwyns 
etc. desire to be remembered to you all also. I am ever most 
Affect 1 *- Yours, G. S. 

" I have received, in a letter from London a trait of the E. of 
Essex, which est bien de lui ; my Lord Onslow either advanced 
to or borrowed for Lord Maiden 1000^ for his accomodation 
during his being abroad, which his father has very pro- 
videntially sunk 800 of for his own private amusement ; I am 
now thinking how much and in what manner he will extract 
money from the Gendre who is to be." 

At the end of July Selwyn is back in town, busily pre- 
paring for Mie Mie's departure to Milan. 



212 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

[To MARY TOWNSHEND] 

"Saturday night, 3oth August [1777] 

" It is so long since I have seen you or heard from you that 
it may be a matter of curiosity what is become of me or what 
I am doing. I have not stirred from town and very little from 
home before nine at night. I am obliged to think a great 
deal about the arrangements necessary for Mie Mie's journey, 
and am endeavouring at the same time to keep it as much 
off my head as possible ; the two schemes are not very com- 
patible. I tried a negotiation with the Comte Fermian, the 
Empress's minister and governor of Milan, and through his 
means to obtain a respite of this event which I have had 
so long a dread of, and must now in ten days take place. I am 
not very prevoyant, but this I never could be persuaded would 
not be, although I was willing to take the hopes which some- 
times good nature, sometimes a foolish artifice, attempted to 
give me. I was desired to believe by the K. of England's 
minister Sir W. Lynch who was in correspondence on my 
account with the Comte Fermian that he should succeed, 
but there is now an end of the very little expectation on 
which I had of keeping the child with me some time longer. 
I must part with her, which will create a change in my way 
of life that will be very uncomfortable to me for some time. 
I should be glad to find out where I could go that I should 
be tolerable to myself without being intolerable to others. 
For a little while I propose to be near London because I 
must be where I can the soonest have information of what 
becomes of the child till she is delivered to her parents. To 
read their letters one would imagine that the whole state 
of Milan and the interest of the Catholick Church was interested 
in her going or being retained here. When I have assurances 
that she is arrived safe I must endeavour to suppose that 
she will at least be not so miserable as myself, and when my 
servants come back I will resolve upon what to do and where 
to go for dissipation. For a few days I could make you a 
visit at Frognal, but I ought not to propose or think of it. 
However this is my present situation. As I heard nothing to 
the contrary, I have concluded that you were all well, indeed 
I was told so by two persons who have seen you. Only some- 
body said that Tommy had not been well, I hope that he 
is so now. I beg my duty to my mother and hearty love to 
the rest. If you allow me to come to you it will be in the 
week after next, and the first day that I shall have resolution 
enough to leave this house, for I do not intend to stay to 



MIE MIE 213 

see Mie Mie go out of it : I intended it as an asylum to 
her till I could find out a better for her. If she mends her 
condition in Italy, I ought not to grieve about it, but my 
fears very naturally encline me to doubt of it. I am ever most 
affectionately yours. 

" I have been this evening with Lady Cornwallis whom I 
found in tolerable spirits. Partridge tells her she is better to- 
day, but he thought her not so well a few days ago. Her last 
letter from her son was dated the i6th, I mean her son William. 
It is believed that Philadelphia is taken and by some thousand 
Quakers. Lady Cornwallis said something about Harry 
Broderick, that was good. People begin to hope we shall 
negotiate and end this unfortunate quarrel. I am not instructed 
enough to say anything worth attending to upon this subject, 
my mind has been too much employed on another." 

Count Fermian's reply to the Austrian Ambassador's appeal 
is printed in Jesse. " The application which you refer to me on 
the part of Mr Selwyn is, unfortunately, one of those demands 
with which it is impossible to comply. . . . Should the Marquis 
and Marchioness return to Milan without their daughter, the 
Government would have just ground for believing that it 
had been imposed upon. The father and mother are of 
advanced age ; of one of the most respectable families in this 
city ; and they await, with the utmost impatience, the return of 
their family, and especially of their grand-daughter, whose 
arrival is looked for by the whole country." This, surely, was 
a rhetorical exaggeration, justifying Selwyn's sneer about " the 
whole state of Milan and the Catholick Church." Notwith- 
standing the failure of all his negotiations, Selwyn still clung to 
the idea of keeping the child in England. He seems to have 
written another wild letter to Madame Fagnani ; for in a reply, 
dated i$th August 1777, and written from Spa, Madame says : 
" You have decided, then, in order to secure your own happi- 
ness, to accomplish our ruin by embroiling us with our family 
while at the same time you destroy the reputation of the child 
you pretend to love. Learn, then, the result of your imprudent 
conduct. Our parents (more irritated than ever by your insult- 
ing offer of giving our daughter a dower, and at the same time 
very angry with us on account of the bad faith we have kept 
with them) have forbidden our writing to them again until we 



214 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

have Mie Mie in our charge. . . . We do not really know, sir, 
what devilish idea has seized you. Was it to reward us for our 
good nature in leaving you Mie Mie, contrary to the advice 
of our parents, or because you doubted our word ? In any case 
you were wrong. I repeat to you that Mie Mie is not an object 
of pity as you endeavour to make out. Thank heaven ! she is 
in want of nothing ; she belongs to a very great house ; she 
has fortune enough to be independent of everyone ; and I can 
assure you that no greater misfortune could befall her than that 
of living in a strange country separated, like a foundling, from 
her family ; maintained by a person who does not belong to 
her, and in regard to whom the world would always question 
by what title he adopted the child." This letter evidently 
brought Selwyn to reason ; for in September the Marchioness 
writes acknowledging his reply " which has given me great 
pleasure." By the end of August Selwyn was preparing busily 
for the departure of Mie Mie. He had some idea of travelling 
as far as Paris with her, but was induced by his friends to give 
it up. " It is likely only to prolong the pain of parting," wrote 
Lady Holland, " and put yourself out of the way of receiving 
comfort from those who would wish to give you all in their 
power on this occasion." Like many another man in trouble, 
Selwyn found his great distraction in work. He personally 
superintended all the details of the child's journey ; he even 
made a memorandum of the inns at which she was to stay 
at the numerous stopping-places between London and Milan : 
" A Dartford, a la Couronne ; a Rochester, a la Couronne, a 
Canterbury, aux Fontaines, a Douvre, chez Buchon, King's 
Head," etc. During September he found time to bring Mie 
Mie to Sir Joshua's studio to have her portrait painted ; Gains- 
borough had already painted it for him two years before. 1 By 
the third week of that month everything was ready for Mie 
Mie's departure ; and on the 22nd she left Cleveland Court for 
Dover in Selwyn's travelling carriage, accompanied by Selwyn's 
faithful valet, Pierre Michalin. Selwyn had run away to 
Frognal two or three days before ; he could not bear the pang 
of actual parting. " I saw your little friend set off this morning, 
in such a state of health and spirits as indicated a pleasant 
journey. I went to your house a little before nine, and break- 
1 Neither of these portraits appears to survive. 



MIE MIE 215 

fasted with her. Mrs Webb had, previous to my going there, 
informed her that you were gone to see your mother, who was 
not well, with which she seemed perfectly satisfied ; and she 
told me that she was very glad you had gone, as ' she loved 
your mother.' I told her that you proposed to come to her as 
soon as you could leave your mother ; and to this she answered 
that 'she hoped you would not do so till she was better, as 
Mrs Webb and Mr Mitchell (Michalin?) would take care of 
her.' This was very considerate of the child, and showed 
much goodness of heart." Reports reached Selwyn from 
various points on the outward journey. From Dover his agents 
had the pleasure to acquaint him that "the little lady you 
recommended to us sailed this morning, with very fine weather 
and a favourable opportunity. We provided her with a very 
good vessel and an exceedingly careful captain." From Paris 
Madame Fagnani reported Mie Mie " perfectly well ; she has 
not suffered the least from the journey." There were notes 
from the young lady herself, short, but very much to the point : 

" MY DEAR MONSIEUR SELWYN, God bless you and pre- 
serve you, with all my heart, and let me see you as soon as 
I can. I am your MlE MlE " 

Selwyn spent a melancholy winter after Mie Mie's de- 
parture. To add to his sorrows, his good old mother died (on 
the 6th of November) at the age of eighty-five. She died at 
Frognal, where she had lived with her son-in-law, Mr Thomas 
Townshend, for many years. Lord Carlisle advised Selwyn to 
"vary the scene" and invited him to Castle Howard. He 
reached that hospitable castle in December, and his health and 
spirits began immediately to improve. The society of his 
friends the Carlisles, including the two children, George and 
Caroline, kept him, in Storer's words, " from the regno Hispania 
et fatalibus arvis" But another circumstance helped to make 
him cheerful. He had decided to visit Milan in the spring, and 
to make another effort with Mie Mie's parents, and still more, 
with her implacable grandparents, to recover possession of the 
child. This gave him something to look forward to during the 
hard and bitter winter of 1777, when the snow lay piled high on 
the coach-roads of England. April found both Selwyn and his 



216 

friend Carlisle ready to start upon widely different journeys : 
Selwyn to Milan, Carlisle to New York, as one of the com- 
mission despatched (too late) to treat with the American rebels. 
Selwyn's own (unpublished) letters to Miss Mary Townshend 
shall tell us the tale of his journey to Italy in quest of Mie Mie. 




MISS MARY TOWNSHEND 

FROM A PORTRAIT BY SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS 



- 



CHAPTER XII 

A JOURNEY TO MILAN 

GEORGE SELWYN left London on the iQth of April 
1778, accompanied by the Rev. Dr John Warner, who 
comes into Selwyn's history at this point. Warner 
was a " creature " of Selwyn's : a typical eighteenth-century 
clerical toady, who cadged, and flattered, and licked the hand 
of his patron, and took snubs and favours with equal serenity. 
An amusing person, too ; his letters to Selwyn are by far the most 
entertaining in Mr Jesse's collection. Rather overwhelming as 
a travelling companion, perhaps ; but doubtless Selwyn could 
subdue him with a word. The two men travelled in Selwyn's 
own private carriage, taking with them many comforts for the 
road. The first letter to Miss Townshend is written from Calais, 
on the morning of the 22nd of April : 

[To MARY TOWNSHEND] 1 

" I embarked yesterday about four in the morning, and 
having but little wind, it was near ten before I could land 
and the vessel not being in port till the afternoon. It was 
not till night that my Coach could be brought on shore, 
or my baggage examined at the Douanne. However, I 
shall get as far as Abbeville to-night, and on Friday I 
hope to dine in Paris, where my stay will be of about 
ten days. It will be near a month from this time before 
I expect to be at Milan. My stomach and head were so 
out of order when I embarked that I endeavoured by going 
to bed on board the ship to avoid, what we imprudent 
people generally do, what would have done me the most 
good ; so for fear of being sick one hour, I have been 
squeamish 24. This morning I am much better both in 
my health and spirits, and if I had more years to ex- 
pect, should find myself very happy in being once more in 
this Country, and with this people, but as it is, I must 
be contented with my own country, which altho' I am told 
will not be long our own, yet while it is, I may be 
1 This and the following letters are from the Mar sham -Townshend MSS. 
217 



218 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

permitted to have a penchant to it. I would not go yester- 
day to dine at Ardres with the Due de Lausan, because 
I was very much indisposed, but if I had, the discourse 
probably would not have pleased me ; so I did as well to 
stay here. 

" I have as yet seen nothing like invasion, or even a disposi- 
tion to carry hostilities further than we invite them. 

" The Duchess of Kingston l is here, in a house which she 
has purchased and furnished magnificently. She has had the 
singular good fortune to obtain from the Government an Act 
of Parliament to naturalize her to a certain degree. She can 
now purchase and bequeath. Her ship is returning from 
Russia into this port, after it has been put in perfect repair at 
the expense of the Empress of Russia, with whom she has 
made a treaty offensive and defensive. She has une fort petite 
sante had an attack of paralysie has a fine vis a vis and four hand- 
some dun horses que n'a-t-elle pas? She had two characters 
in Calais, altho' she may have but one in her own country. 
Une Dame Dominicaine told me yesterday that she performed 
great acts of charity, and seemed to entertain a very good 
opinion of her. . . . 

" Milady Fenoulet 2 is in all beaux cercles of Calais, painted 
like the stern of a ship ; her daughter married to a Marquis ; 
and another with her ; a very good house ; and a permission to 
remain in Calais. An order is come from Court that the rest 
of the English, who will not go to England, retire into the 
Country from the Coast. 

"Let me hear from you before I leave Paris. Let me 
know often how Mrs Townshend and the rest of the family 
does. Give my hearty love to them, and send me yours and 
their directions for anything you want. My love to Lady 
Middleton when you see and write to her. I hope to hear 
that Miss Broderick has got quite well. 

" Je suis tres content de mes deux compagnons de voyage. 
Us sont aussi fort satisfaits . . . ils consent tout la journee traiter 
ensemble toutes sortes de chapitres mais ils ne disputent pas. 

" I am much tempted to wish that Dr Gemm would go the 
whole journey with me, and stay at Milan while I remain there. 
I believe that my friend March will make no opposition to 
that, or those who are so good as to have had apprehension 
of my not returning. Upon what ground such an idea could 
have been conceived, I do not well comprehend, but, une fais ridi- 

1 The famous bigamist, Miss Chudleigh. 

2 Formerly Anne Franks, alias Mrs Day, mistress of Richard Edgecumbe. 
Her portrait was painted by Sir Joshua. 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 219 

cule, on vous le croit toujours. I intend to be here with Her 
Grace or Lady Fenoulet, the first week in November at the 
furtherest, and wait for a mer tranquille to come over ; and a 
castel ship if there should be any occasion for it ; but God avert 
that, and all the nonsense which has brought us into such perils. 

" Adieu, my dear Mary, most affectionately. Aimez moi 
toujours un peu, as they say here, and let me hear from you 
often. 

" I hope six months hence, at all events, to have interest 
enough with the Court of England to get me a ship for my 
return, for I will not embark either at Ostend or Helvoetsluys, 
if I stay here till there is a peace. 

" I forgot to tell you that the Duchess sails to Rome in 
October, where her faith is to be confirmed, unless she is taken 
by an American Privateer, in provision of which she has got 
Berkley's Book in Defence of the Quakers." 

The travellers arrived at Paris on the 24th, and were wel- 
comed by Madame du Deffand and her circle. About this 
time the Abbe Barth61emy, writing to his friend Madame de 
Choiseul, informed her that he had no news at all " except the 
journey of M. Selwin to Italy." The good Abbe's comments 
show how this escapade perplexed Selwyn's friends. " It is 
neither Rome," says he, "nor Florence, nor Naples, which 
attracts him. He is not concerned with pictures or statues ; 
he goes to see a little girl whom he loves to distraction and 
who is only seven years old. He will pass some months with 
her. . . . Your 'grand-daughter' [Madame du Deffand] says 
this story is the beginning of a romance. She is right ; I will 
tell it to you very briefly. . . . Madame du Deffand asked him 
[Selwyn] yesterday if she [Mie Mie] were pretty ? ' She seems 
so to me/ he replied. 'Is she lively?' 'Very lively.' 'In 
what religion have you brought her up ? ' 'I was not her 
spiritual adviser ; they taught her the morals common to all 
religions.' He speaks of her with tenderness, with tears 
in his eyes. He is, however, certain that she is not his 
daughter. So long as this passion continues, he will be the 
most unhappy man in the world. He must pass one por- 
tion of his life away from her, and the other in the fear of 
losing her." Selwyn spent three weeks in Paris, waiting for 
his medical adviser, Dr Gemm, who proposed to accompany 
him to Milan, 



220 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

[To MARY TOWNSHEND] 

"PARIS 
"Sunday loth May 1778 

" You will be surprised that I am not further advanced in 
my journey, but having resolved upon taking Dr Gemm with 
me to Italy, I have been obliged to stay on his or rather on 
Miss Seymour's accounts. She has had and has still a very 
bad fever but there is no apparent danger, and another physician 
being now called in, my doctor has promised to set out with me, 
and I shall go as far as Fontainebleau on Wednesday evening, 
and be at Lyons in about five days at most and in a week more 
I hope at Milan. I cannot well conceive why my last letter 
was so long in coming to your hands. It should have been 
carried from Calais on Wednesday the 22nd of last month, and 
consequently by being put that day or the next into the post at 
Dover might have reached you by the end of the week. But it 
might have been that the wind was not fair for England, or that 
the letter was to have been read to the Commandant at Calais 
by one whose education gave him that advantage over his 
superior. However you had, to the earliest mark which I 
could give you of my remembrance. Whether I shall trust this 
to the post or not, as I may like what it contains. Admr. 
Rodney goes to-day, or to-morrow, and he may take charge of 
it. It is said that letters are stopped, and read, God knows if 
that be true, or any one word that I hear as to news, the French 
Ministers, and everybody who knows anything of importance 
here is very secret and are much wiser in this, I am afraid than 
we are. Everybody who knows nothing is spreading his about 
from morning to night as will best serve their purpose. I have 
but five questions to ask, some you will be so good as to answer, 
others you cannot answer, if you would, we are at present, in 
regard all alike instructed. . . . But what interests me most 
immediately is to know how my friends do in England, and 
particularly your family and my nearest relations, and of that 
I hope that you will not fail to give me an account very 
frequently. I am as you may imagine in a little pain about 
Lady Carlisle. The accounts which have been sent in of her 
have given cause enough for it. I am more concerned than 
surprised, all the circumstances of her condition considered. 
La belle mere, 1 qui est a cette heure n'en moins que belle, I am 
in no pain about at all. She is seemingly very well and in 
good spirits, and I appear to be not ill with her, so she either 
has not been so angry with me as I was told that she was, or 
has thought it better to lay her displeasure aside. My accounts 
1 The Dowager Lady Carlisle. 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 221 

of Lady Carlisle are from Lady Julia who corresponds with her 
mother, for I have had as yet no letter from her myself, which 
I attribute to her ill state of health. I wrote her a very long 
letter from Calais, which I am now sorry for, for I was then 
very low spirited and in those humours one cannot write as I 
wished to have done to her although I always desire that she 
should know how very tenderly I interest myself for she has 
as good a reputation here as in England. I will beg the favour 
of you, when you write again, to send into St James's place to 
hear of her health, and how the children do also. I was some 
hours last night, before I went to supper with the Dutchess of 
Gainsbro, et son Mari, I do not know if he is a clergyman, but 
I thought he was, and I expected to find a little grey parson 
and I found with her a gentleman in scarlet and gold em- 
broidery, whom I understood to be Mr Pygloz. They say here 
that he is a good sort of man : he may be so, for anything they 
know, for they seem to know nothing of the English, but that 
they read in books, misrepresent their characters, and are 
employed the whole day in copying their dress and equippage 
of which they have made a strange mode. I wish people would 
confine themselves in all things to the ways of their own country 
which generally points out what is most convenient and orna- 
mental, and each will have something belonging to them that 
is superior, but they mix them both together, that it is like the 
language of the refugies, a Patois, that if you understand is 
horrible to hear. A Frenchman told me yesterday that here, 
on fait plus de grace aux vices, qu'aux ridicules. Qu'en pensez 
vous ? I really believe that they do not mean to be ridiculous, 
tout au contraire, nor would they be so, if they would adhere 
more to a maxim which they are very fond of, that is, de ne pas 
sortir de son etat. But they almost all do. What you tell me 
of the Trident was in a letter which Miss Wilks wrote a Baron 
de Castile. These two people are very fond of their corre- 
spondence with one another, she is pleased that she has sent a 
French letter to the post which she thinks is well wrote, and he, 
that he has received a letter from the daughter of the celebre 
citoyen, which I suppose is carried in an hour after he has 
received it, either to Monsieur de Vergennes, or to the 
Lieutenant de Police. But if he has news to tell out of it, 
dans le cercle des dames, it is enough. They shall never 
have my letters to read things out of, I am resolved. . . . 
I shall apply myself to Italian for the next five or six 
months. I believe Warner is further advanced in that, than I 
am. Dr Gemm, is superior to us both as I imagine. I am in 
hopes that my poor Mie Mie has not forgot her English, I 



222 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

believe that I shall apply more to that than to anything else, 
that is personal to myself. As soon as I come there I will write 
to you, and I promise you, that when I see you, which I hope 
will be in November, to be very true and fair in my [account]. 

" If I have deceived myself, I will tell you so. But come 
home, I will most certainly, whatever I may do hereafter, which 
I am very sure will be nothing that anybody can condemn. 
But at present I have no credit given me. That my situation 
is extraordinary, I grant, but that I am so, in respect to that, 
I do not, and I am much of Mr Helvetius's mind, who says, 
that when people are thought to be so, they are generally 
misunderstood, and their position unknown, if not, it would be 
found that nine times out of ten, a man has done the best thing 
he could for himself, in that situation. But I will say no more 
upon that now. . . . Pray let me know where you all go, as well 
as how you do, and what you do, and if you can think of any- 
thing which I can send from Italy, either for you, or the young 
ladies. At present I have no notion of anything they have, but 
Opera singers, Parmazan cheese, and Italian flowers. I have 
much to learn as well as to see about them. They cannot here 
well account for my journey to Milan, which I am not surprised 
at, and that I do not intend to go to Rome. The Pope's 
Nuncio has offered me all kind of recommendations, but it is 
too late. Mes poursuites ne sont pas celles de 1'Antiquite." 

" LYONS 
"Wednesday, 20 May, 1788 

" I came here on Monday to dinner and shall set out 
this morning for Pont Beau Voison, and so on to Turin and 
Milan, where I hope to be next Tuesday. I found here Lord 
Hinchinbroke and his family who are returning from the 
South to England. It is a great while since I have heard 
from thence, and my curiosity about it and what it contains 
is not diminished by distance or absence. I hope that I shall 
find Letters for me in plenty at Milan. I am in great fear 
about Lady Carlisle. The last accounts which I had sunk my 
spirits very much. I am got myself very well at present, and 
shall be glad not to give Dr Gemm the trouble of following me 
into Italy, which he offers to do when Miss Seymour is quite 
well. I have now performed two parts of my Journey, but the 
third I am afraid will be worse than the other two, on account 
of the mauvais gites et mauvaise chose. I have a Cook and a 
Bed, but they will not, I am apprehensive, be of so much use as 
I wished them to be. The Bed it is difficult to carry, and the 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 223 

cook can dress nothing on the road, so how I shall do I know 
not ; Michelet l assures me very well. I wish at all times to 
see you, and here as well as in other places. The manufactures 
and stuffs and embroideries are mighty pretty, le choix em- 
barrasse. But things are monstrously cheap. 

I beg my Love to all the Family. I am very impatient to 
hear something of you. I found Lord Hinchinbroke as unin- 
structed of what has passed for three months almost as I am 
of what is doing at present, and I am afraid they will not let 
my English newspapers come through France. Yours most 
affectionately. 

" If Mr Townshend had come with me in my Coach from 
Paris to this place he would not have been displeased, nor 
could the exercise have fatigued him. My coach is the best in 
the world, very tolerable beds, and something or other to eat 
and by proper precautions what you please. Everything now 
begins to look Italy, houses, sky, etc. The Journey hither is 
really nothing if you send on anybody before for your Rooms 
and your Dinner, and the country delighful. I met Peas and 
Strawberries here for the first time. I have passed through all 
the vineyards and had my choice of wine, as I hardly drink 
any but with water. There is a very good Theatre and troupe, 
but the occupation of the English is choosing cloaks from 
morning to night because the fancy is new, and the commodity 
cheap. I never was before so far from home, and therefore like 
a Badaud de Paris ' le monde me passit bien grand,' as Mme. 
de Chatelet (?) said when she went to the South with the P. 
du Maine. Elle avait le talent de fair bien grand ce qu'elle avait 
trouve fort petit. Yours most affectionately, my dear Mary. 

" Pray lett me know if on my return I can bring anything 
which you or the girls will like particularly." 

"MILAN 
"Sunday, 3151 May [1778] 

"I gott hither last Tuesday the 26th to dinner. I was only 
one day at Turin. My memory is so bad that I really forgett 
when I wrote to you last, I only am afraid that I trouble you 
too often. I have received since I left Paris which was the 
1 3th inst, but one letter and that was on Friday night from 
Lord March's steward, who told me many things which I was 
very much interested to know, and the uncertainty of which 
had filled my mind with much anxiety, but I am still much in 

1 His valet. The name is spelt " Michalin" in Selwyn's will. 



224 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

the dark as to many others which I shall be very impatient to 
know and particularly how you and how the family does. Si 
les Absens ont tort en general, j'en n'ai plus que tous les autres, 
c'est que je suppose. For I feel myself quite forgot, which 
perhaps may not be the greatest misfortune which can happen 
to me and yet it would mortifie me too, to a certain degree. 
Whether any letters have been detained or miscarried I know 
not, but it has been very unplaisant to me and till Friday night 
I was in pain to know whether Lady Carlisle was alive or not 
from the account which I had of her in Paris. I was to such a 
degree uneasy about it, that when I had found means by great 
accident to gett some English newspapers and they came to 
me at a house while I was at dinner, I was obliged to make 
Pierre go into another room to read them to see if her name 
was mentioned in them before I could eat my dinner with satis- 
faction. I am now satisfied upon that point because when 
Ld. M[arch]'s steward called at her house she was gone out. 
Letters come here, or should come here, Friday and Tuesday 
evening and go out Tuesdays and Saturdays, and are generally 
upon the road fifteen or sixteen days at most. I shall stay here 
till I find the weather cool enough for travelling in September, 
for as I shall be three weeks on the road to Calais, so I shall be 
afraid of delays or the falling of the snow, and in regard to poor 
Mie Mie, I shall have done all that I could have expected or 
do expect to do for her benefit, or my own satisfaction and 
when that is over, I must leave her with the frail hopes of seeing 
her again in England, which perhaps, best for her sake and my 
own had better not happen. She is in regard to her health I 
think, well, but I must own that I am in constant pain for it, 
from the extensive liberty which is allowed her to eat or to do 
whatever she likes. Everybody seems very fond of her and she 
has always had (indeed, very luckily for herself) as I told her 
grandmother last night an uncommon attention and desire to 
please, and to be acceptable to the people she is with, especially 
if they behave in any manner agreeable to her. She knows 
and is known to every person of distinction in this place and is 
received and treated by them as she ought to be even to the 
utmost of my wishes, nor can I as yet perceive the least idea in 
any one person whatever of what might have contributed to 
have putt her upon a worse foot than she ought to be, had she 
stayed with us. But if you ask me if that satisfies me I will be 
frank to own that it does not. But I will no more complain of 
what is past a remedy. I am sure that her education in 
England would have been a good one had it been solely left 
and for a length of time, to me, because although I could have 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 225 

not contributed to this nothing but my attention, yet, with that, 
which would have been indefatigable, she would have had no 
one person about her, but those who could have, if not im- 
proved her understanding, done her morals no harm. What her 
education will be here, or what the effects of it, I shall not 
probably live to see. I must hope and despair according to the 
temper I happen to be in and be satisfied that if she could not 
have been upon a proper foot in England (an idea I have never 
yet adopted) she will be upon the best here. I think that, from 
what I see, that is not unlikely, and that is my only comfort. 
She has a grandmother, the mother of her mother, Mme. la Com- 
tesse Mellario and her grandfather-in-law. She has a grand- 
father the old Marquis Fagnani and his wife, who was the 
Mare"chal Clince's sister. These are people, I see, of great 
rank, and living in a great style ; the fondness which they ex- 
press for this little girl, is more than I suppose you would have 
expected. They are constantly finding out amusements for 
her, but what she learns, or what she forgetts, except her 
Religion, they do not seem much to care. Their civilities to 
me are as great and assiduous as can be, and their remercimens 
also. She is, in a manner delivered up to me here, but what I 
can do, with the impediments I have, will signify nothing, and 
if it did, when I am gone will be lost. I am now aiming but at 
one thing, which is preserving her English, of which she has 
forgott more than I could have imagined, and I am in Hopes to 
obtain of her Mother permission to have some English maid 
about her and if possible one who can read it with her. They 
all desire this, and if this maid is a Catholick, I suppose Monsr. 
le Cardinal will not oppose it. But they seem to leave the 
trouble of it to me ; if I could think anything a trouble wh. 
would be of use to her. I think that I have already given 
complete testimonies that that cannot be by the very disagree- 
able journey which I have taken for her sake, and if I am con- 
sistent in nothing else, I think that I may with justice expect 
to be thought so in regard to her. 

" The House which they have taken for me is a very large 
one built around a Court a 1'Italienne. The Venetian Resident 
occupies one part of it, and I the other. They are as distinct 
in all respects as if we were separated by two streets. The 
House is new, but it was a House only, not even wainstcoated 
when taken for me. I have it for six months beginning from 
March, a great number of rooms, and they are furnished partly 
by M. Fagnani and partly by an Upholsterer. Everything is 
new and clean, as much as brick floors will permitt. But I 
shall never be able to reconcile myself to them, although there 



are no other in their finest palaces. The Houses here are 
indeed magnificent, and with all kinds of accomodations, every 
sort of Apartment, court and Garden. But there is not a work- 
man in the town that knows how to hang a door. Their ceilings 
are well painted, and mine among the rest, but it is the painting 
of a Green House, or an Orangerie. Paintings they have 
without end, and some of them I believe fine, but the subjects 
are either uninteresting or Horrid. I have a certain number in 
my House which would bear a price, I suppose, at Mr Christie's, 
and receive from him a panegyrick. It has been with great 
good luck I have found a Carpet, for the Marquis happened to 
have sent one, and a large one, from England. My windows 
are directly over against Mie Mie's so I have as much of her 
Company as if she was in the House with me. With her 
French Governess she speaks French, with the other maids 
a Patois of the Milanese which she has learnt the quicker as 
all children will because it is bad, and with me it is a ragofit 
me!6 of them and English. But she is now so much with 
me, and I send her Governess away so, it may be for the 
present that she will recover her native language. I can 
never dine at Home, because I must not refuse invitations. 
I dine the oftenest with the Comte de Fermian, who allways 
sends his Upper Servant in his Coach to ask his excellence, 
as he calls me, and so my Dinner is allways preceded by 
an Ambassador. The style of their Cookery is infernal. 
But I can find something allways to eat which satisfies me, 
and the Comte Fermian has some plain boiled Chicken and 
fish and Rhenish, &c. which I believe are ordered for me. 
Warner, who has his apartment in my House is allways 
asked, and as Bashfullness does not stand in his way with 
a moderate stock of the parlez-vous, either in French or 
Italian, il trouve son chemin et le moyen de plaise. / puff off 
his Erudition, and he my Importance. But I believe Sr. W. 
Lynch and the Comte Belgioro together have not spared words 
to recommend me to the Comte Fermian's protection, and to 
that I am obliged. I have been presented to the Duchess of 
Modena, who takes no other name than the Princess Melzi. I 
am in as many Houses as at Paris. But I can neither count 
their money, tell their Hours, or know what title to give their 
Nobility. Mie Mie helps me al corro, to their names, and seems 
already to have made a pretty extensive acquaintance with the 
Fryars as well as the Noblesse. I shall be presented to-morrow 
to the Arch Duke. It is his birthday and he comes to town 
for that purpose and at night I am to be at his Ball and put on 
my new Embroidery which I made in Paris, for as yet I have 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 227 

not quitted my mourning, 1 or intend to do so till I return to 
England. I have almost if not quite gott rid of my Cold, but 
am at times in such lowness of Spirits that they are to the last 
degree oppressive. Warner would assist me, if good ones were 
a specific, but they are not, at least to me. They may amuse 
one who is dull but not one who is unhappy. However I am 
in hopes that after I am once settled again at home that this 
will mend. I wish in the younger part of my life I had seen 
the other parts of Italy, but at present, I have very little in- 
clination, otherwise it is now the time of going to the Ascension 
at Venice, where all Foreigners now in Italy resort, as I am 
told, and I am within two days of it. The Venetian Resident, 
my neighbour, does also offer me all kinds of conveniences for 
the going, but my whole mind is upon one object here, and 
upon many others at Home, and I had rather now to read 
books of travels than travel myself, although I see how much 
these lie in every circumstance. There is indeed no truth 
but in your own Experience. I was told by all who have been 
here that they spoke French here, and that it was like a French 
town ; point du tout ; many do speak it, and some very tolerably, 
but they are in this respect as we are in London. French is a 
talent which some have acquired and some have not. They do 
not chose to talk it, and I find I change the language as much 
as a foreigner would at London, and that they speak it before 
me because they think, and with reason enough, that my con- 
versation in Italian would be tres borne"e. As to English, Us 
n'y ont pas les plus petites pretensions. The Comte Fermian 
has the Anglo-manie stronger than I ever knew. He seems to 
have a better knowledge of our History and people than most 
foreigners and has an exceedingly good library, which he has 
offerred the use of to Warner. I think that he will be of the 
greatest resource to me while I stay, but I must do all these 
Italians here the justice to say that there is as much empresse- 
ment in them to be civil to me as it is possible. Mme. 
Castiligne, Lady Spencer's acquaintance and her sister, I like 
much, but a converzatione here and a cercle at Mme. du deffands 
are two very different things indeed. Then the shops and the 
shopkeepers here with whom I have, both in London and Paris, 
a great connection, afford me here no amusement. Three 
shops out of four sell nothing but saints and ornaments for the 
Church, and they talk a jargon to understand which if I under- 
stood Italian ever so well it would avail me nothing. I have 
now given you the best account I can at present of what I have 
seen and of my feelings and of my manner of living here. I hope 

1 For his mother. 



228 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

that some of you for my Comfort will write to me, and that 
you will give my hearty love to them all. I do not advise Mr 
Townshend to extend his travels beyond Lyons, but in France, 
and in that part of it especially he would be amused I am sure, 
and no convenience of life wanting whatsoever. But that 
cursed Country of Savoye, and its Beggars and Goitres etc., 
are my detestation. Mont Cenis, which from report I had so 
much dreaded, was the pleasantest part of the journey, the 
Rocks, Cascades, and Fir trees are very beautiful indeed, but I 
had rather send a painter to those countries, I own, than go 
there myself. 

" The weather will soon grow so Hott that I shall be able to 
stir very little out, but to dinner. But my House I can keep 
cooler than most others. There is a Picture done of me here, 
which is said by everybody to be the likest which ever was, and 
the painting is good with a verite" that I seldom see in Pictures 
painted in England. It has gained the man, who is a Pied- 
montois, great reputation, the pains he has taken about it are 
infinite. The fagnanis have desired it. We shall go, I believe, 
next week to the Comtesse Mellario's House in the Country for 
a fortnight, Mie Mie and I, that is her Grandmother's, but her 
father and mother do not go with us, it is not far off. I hope 
yt. your next Letter will not be so long on the road or this 
either. Fourteen days is the usual time from London hither. 
Adieu." 

" MILAN 
"Saturday, 1 3th June, 1778 

" I received yours of the ipth of last month here, yesterday 
evening, so it has been, I do not know by what accident, ten 
days longer upon the road, than it should have been. By the 
last post, I received letters of the 26th, and they were no more 
than fourteen days upon the road. The dereglement de la paste 
is one of the inconveniences of being at this distance, but if you 
are so good as to continue to write, I shall sooner or later prob- 
ably receive all your letters. As I told Charles in my last, if 
he and you and Tommy took it by turns to write, I should not 
be so troublesome to each, but I cannot hear too often from too 
many of you. I did not know you had ever had any acquaint- 
ance, immediate or collateral with the poor Admiral, or I forgot 
it. ... You do not tell me the names of those who copy his 
oeconomy, but there are so many, and chiefly among my com- 
panions at Almacks, where the opportunities are so frequent of 
ruining themselves, and doing injustice to others, that I am never 
surprised at what happens. I am more concerned a great deal at 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 229 

what Lady Middleton must have felt about Miss B[roderick]. It 
is with great pleasure that I understand that she is now getting 
well, pray remember me very kindly to her. What you tell me 
of Georgina is what I very often heard my poor mother say, 
and is the best symptom of a young person's mind that can be 
expressed. I am glad that she pleased upon her presentation ; 
I daresay that the pleasure between her and her beholders was 
reciprocal. Your brother's zeal and assiduity to assist Lord 
Chatham's family est digne de lui. 1 His success has been very 
great and I suppose unexpected. It is very true that I am 
very well disposed towards young people, and am very apt 
to give them great and long credit, sometimes upon appearances 
only, but Lord Pitt's character very much justifies all prepos- 
session which one can have in his favour, from what his coun- 
tenance and manner makes you hope for. Lord Chatham had 
uncommon abilities and these were at times of singular service 
to his country, assisted as they were by a propensity in the 
people to approve and encourage all his schemes. Other 
Ministers, with the same abilities, as I heard him once say in 
the House, had they been so fortunate as to please the people, 
would have been more serviceable than they were. The public 
has expressed their sense of his use and mind in a very ample 
manner, and I doubt not upon very good grounds. But I only 
hope that hereafter a person whom we all know and admire, 2 
who has also great parliamentary talent, but whose services, I 
am afraid, will never deserve the same recompense, may not 
come into administration, as he has flattered himself and others 
he will, with such a plenitude of power, as to persuade the 
House that his debts must be first paid, before he can perform 
all those exploits which are to restore the lost credit of his poor 
country, and so by recovering the order of things, anticipate 
his reward. As his debts are great and his moderation little, 
such a consequence might be dreaded. But to speak seriously, 
I have no fears of his ever being in that station, and I have 
great hopes that England will still exist, altho' we have not the 
abilities of that aspiring genius to help us. That great and 
useful men should be rewarded and encouraged is a proposition 
to which I cannot refuse my assent. But I hope that in future 
times the public will be persuaded to part with their money by 
argument, and not by numbers, and then Mr Qharles] F[ox]'s 
creditors will receive as much as I desire to give them. . . . 

" Every day I stay at Milan convinces me more that if I 
mean to give Mie Mie every possible succour which I can 
give her, I did right to come. If I did right to come, I should 

1 Lord Chatham died nth May 1778. a Charles James Fox. 



230 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

have done very wrong to have suffered any discouragement or 
inconvenience or expense which I could afford to have put 
aside my endeavours to help her. . . . Her situation and con- 
nections here are great, and may hereafter make her happy, 
but Education is my favourite advantage, because it is the 
foundation upon which every good superstructure must be 
raised. I am sure that that would have been better in England 
than anywhere else, and all over England better with me, 
unless she had been the object of your care or Lady Carlisle's. 
You will think this presumptuous in me to say, but I know it 
to be true, for besides being a little of a Connoisseur myself in 
Education, I think no one would have equalled me in attention 
and assiduity, because I believe no one ever equalled me in 
affection. Upon that Basis all my Hopes were founded, a 
droit or a gauche I should have found assistance for one 
consideration or another, and I verily believe should have 
found the means of conducting her safely to an Age of dis- 
cretion, if such a one there is. But if I was only right by 
Comparison, it was enough. Parents who would leave their 
daughter in a foreign country, and in such hands as they left 
this poor child, for six years and who would then have given 
her up to me, if family pride and convenience had not inter- 
ven'd ; were not the persons to whom I could wish to have 
placed a depot une bien si precieuse. But Justice and Honor, 
the Laws, and a due consideration of what might be otherwise 
the consequence to the child herself, forced me much against 
my Inclination, and almost against my opinion, to give her 
up upon the requisition of these parents, who had so much 
neglected her. I did so, and was more miserable, as I believe 
you know, than any human being ever was. That, and all 
my precedent inquietude on her account, has so shattered my 
nerves that I am not able to bear up against the common 
calamities of life with the fortitude which becomes a man 
to have. But I shall never be so miserable as I have been, 
for these reasons, that I now know the worst of everything, 
but what may happen to myself; and that it is not wise to 
wish to know, if you could. Mie Mie's condition and reception 
and all other circumstances are infinitely better than I ex- 
pected. I might hope, and be flattered, but I could not know 
it, without this pilgrimage. The Parents are chacun selon 
son characteVe, all more or less fond of her. But they now 
and then give me hopes that she shall come again to England 
to see me. L'ultima che si perde 6 la Speranza. I do not 
however build upon it, and shall acquiesce if it does not 
happen. But I will never refuse to receive a child I love 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 231 

from the Hands of those who are willing to part with it. A 
certain degree of solicitude as well as much regret must be 
my lott for the rest of my life, and if Mie Mie had never left 
me I could not have been without, if I had had the tenderness 
for her which I believe that I should always have preserved ; 
so that my pleasure even in its utmost perfection would have 
been, like all others, fort epineuse. But those which I have had 
have been uncommonly mixed et mes plus douce moments 
sont meles de tristesse. However, in November next if you 
renew the subject with me, I will be free to give you my 
thoughts upon it, as I shall be careful not to trouble you with 
it, if you do not. Brisons-la pour le present. Ld. R. Bertie 
I did never expect to see any more, but I own that I thought 
that his end would be more sudden than it is likely to be. 
I have mentioned to Charles what my inclinations are in 
regard to Chicelhurst. 1 If my scheme is a practicable one, he 
will in proper time let me know. I only wish, that if he lets 
that house to a stranger, I may have the preference, by which 
means I should hope that he would anticipate the possession of 
it by being there with his tenant, but I suppose that if he does 
not occupy it himself yt. an arrangement will be made with 
his brother. I think that I can never live at Matson, and 
am tired of London. Four months there will satisfie me for 
the future, but a place near it will leave me at liberty to change 
my place as often as my Humour. You will think of this 
and how it may suit your family affairs and my inclination. I 
beg my hearty love to Mr Townshend. I never expected 
him to write. I hope that he will not put himself to so much 
inconvenience especially as so many of his family can give 
me accounts of him, which I hope will be good. That I may 
pass still many Hours and days with him in yt. Harmony 
that has now subsisted a great while, and wh. shall never 
receive from me any Interruption. Make my kind compli- 
ments to the rest of the family, particularly to Lady Middleton. 
Mie Mie and I are to go this afternoon to see a very fine 
procession at St Antoine, at the Marchesa Leta's. Lady 
B. M'Kensie saw her last night in my coach for the first time. 
Lady B. will tell you how finely I am lodged, if you should 
see her. She envies me much my house and furniture. I 
have 7 rooms on a floor, although not all furnished, so Ld. 
Middleton would not have wanted an apartment. I dine 
two and sometimes 3 days in a week with the Comte Fermian ; 
the other days Mie Mie dines at my House, unless we are both 
asked abroad." 

1 " Farrington's," where Lord Robert Bertie then lived. 



232 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

" MILAN 
" Monday evening, i5th June [1778] 

"I received yours of the ist of this month, this evening, 
which is the iQth day from London, which is quite the regular 
time. I wrote to you last post to answer yours of the iQth. 
It is from Charles, or Tommy that I expect publick news, and 
from you les affaires de menage. I am glad to hear Mr 
Townshend finds himself better. If it is thought in the least 
advisable for Miss Broderick to pass her next winter in a 
warmer climate, I hope that she will admit no arguments to 
the contrary. But I shall be happy to hear that every degree 
of apprehension about her is removed, and that any remedy 
out of England is unnecessary. It will be to operate some 
great good indeed that I shall ever consent to go out of it, 
for I am grown old, and like every day more and more, les 
clochers de ma paroisse, and I for ever think when I am from 
home of the truth of what M. Bison told me formerly que Ton 
n'est jamais si bien que chez soi. Nothing that is new, 
nothing that is magnificent can make me amends for not 
having what I am used to of every kind, and yet I believe that 
I am both here and at Paris, upon as good a foot as a foreigner 
can be. But then I am a foreigner and that I do not like. 
You have now named the persons whom your prudence con- 
cealed the names of in your last letter. It matters but little 
to them to be left out of a letter, when there are a thousand 
writs out against them, and six executions in their House. Apres 
cela c'est le secret de la Comedie ou de la tragedie, comme il 
vous plaisa. 

" The Holland family had infinitely better be at the point 
from whence they started, without sons, titles, or acquisitions. 
It is better never to acquire these things than to see them 
ruined and squandered as they are. I believe if my old friends 
Lord K. and Lord H[olland] could be asked the question, they 
would own that they might have been happier with more 
moderate views, and without sons, unless their education had 
been better. In my conscience I believe that there is one of 
them that has been the ruin of them all. 1 The Countess's 
dissipation is a story of another sort. The D. has finished as 
I expected, and shall ever expect when I see young people 
trained up as they were. It is some comfort to me that Lord 
C[arlisle] made his retreat in time, and I really believe will be, 
in a few years, one of the few of the nobility that is not in 
some measure undone. If that had been so, I am sure that 
both he and all his relations will do me the justice to own that 
1 Charles James Fox. 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 233 

it would not have been my fault. Indeed they are very fair 
to say so. I hope that all the probable unhappiness of your 
family is at an end. It would he a great pity to have so 
uncommon an union interrupted on any account. 

"Mie Mie thanks you kindly for your constant and kind 
remembrance of her. I must certainly be sorry to leave her, 
but I know the necessity of it, and must make up my mind 
to it, as well as I can. I know also that staying longer than 
this summer would be doing her no good. Nothing will effect 
what I desire but her being delivered entirely up to me. It 
is just that kind of Government that will admit of no person 
whatever to share, therefore I shall have prepared these people 
to know that when they are tired of her, I will take her ; and 
that may be, and then if I love as I must always do, nobody 
can be surprised if I do take her. If that is not to be her lot, 
and my comfort, I hope a better will happen to us both, but 
when I was obliged to resign her, I suffered more than I can 
ever do again, because I knew by that act that we were both 
lost. But I saw no response in reason or in justice, or in 
regard to her, and therefore I did not listen to what my own 
opinion or inclination might have led me to do, for fear of 
injuring her happiness and my own reputation. The life at 
Milan is not only dull to me, but seems to be so to those who 
from habitude only lead it. It seems to be an established 
system of ennui. It is totally different either from that in 
France, or England, as much as the language that they speak, 
so that my being constantly with Mie Mie is a sacrifice of 
nothing, supposing myself to have any pleasure preferable to it. 

" This letter will, as I imagine, find you at Margate, and 
you will have seen what was intended to be the delightful 
retreat of Mr C[harles] F[ox] from the cares of State. 1 His 
collection of antiquities and the statue under which his father 
had engraved the word ' Rascal,' because he thought the 
statue resembled Lord G[C. ?]. Poor Lord H. need not have 
employed his talents building Ruins, when he had children 
who could do all that so much better. . . . 

"... Sometimes I think of the inevitable necessity of things 
being as they are, and that I was once afraid that they would 
be much worse, that many accidents may make them better, 
and that when I have done all I can, I ought not to make my- 
self so unhappy when I can do no good, and may do harm by 
it. These reflections at times make me easy ; and then at 
others I see such a management, or rather such a neglect of an 
object which I love, which I am afraid will end miserably for 

1 Kingsgate, Lord Holland's seat near Margate. 



234 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

her, and then I sink again ; and if all this you will say is extra- 
ordinary I grant it ; that is, I allow the circumstances to be 
peculiar. But in all the actions of my life it is that in which I 
have myself been the least extraordinary and the most consist- 
ent, so that I may, if I was to write a treatise upon this subject, 
I might begin my Book as Dr Macleane does his Apology for 
his own Conduct relative to his brother and say : ' There is 
nothing so extraordinary in the case of the Unhappy James 
Maclean as its being thought so,' etc. etc. However, if I was 
not so unhappy and poor Mie Mie so likely to be so afterwards 
from the want of a good education, I should not much care how 
extraordinary my case was thought to be. In things of this sort 
the qu'en-dira-t-on is a matter of no moment to me. It is surpris- 
ing to me that I am still to ask whether we shall go to war with 
France, but if I do I do not suppose my question can be yet 
resolved. 1 I wish that if occasion offer you will ask somebody 
that is likely to know in case of a war how I am to come from 
Calais, for I do from hence protest against returning either from 
Helvoetsluys or Ostend. I intend to go to Conde, that is the 
D. de Croz's house near St Omer, till I am informed of an easy 
passage, for the sea-sickness is so intolerable to me if it lasts 
any time que les Roues ne peuvent souffrir autant. 

" There has been here Mr York, the eldest son of C. York ; he 
is now gone in to Switzerland with his travelling governor, but 
returns here the beginning of August, when the new theatre is 
opened ; I propose then to desire that he will now and then dine 
with me. He seems a very modest, sensible young man, but has 
a melancholy cast of countenance, his sister was a friend of 
Mie Mie's at Mrs Terry's. The M'Kenzies have gone to the 
Boromoean Islands, and to be in England in August. Mrs A. 
Pitt 2 goes first to Aix la Chapelle. I suppose that I shall be 
abused for seeing in Italy nothing but Milan, and in Milan 
nothing but the Child, which will be very near the case, but I 
cannot help it. I believe if Rome was but the journey of one 
day, I should not go there, so little curiousity have I left. My 
only object of satisfaction is to get some little house either in 
the neighbourhood of Windsor, or in yours, as a Boudoir, ou 
je ne bouderois pas, car a 1'heure qu'il est je n'ai des Bouderies 
que pour le monde. It is for that reason why I should like to 
have the option of Chicelhurst, or if I cannot have that, to find 
something like (?) Lady Holland's. 

" These are the thoughts I amuse myself with, by which you 

1 In fact England and France were then at war, following upon the Treaty 
between France and America, signed May 1778. 

2 Sister of Lord Chatham. 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 235 

will see that I have no thought of taking up my residence here, 
how long I should stay if any good would be obtained by it, I do 
not know, or would answer for. I hope that Lady M[idleton] has 
not been made to believe by Mr W[alpole] that they will poison 
me. Of all the ideas which ever come into a man's head, who 
knew the world, and me, I think that was the most absurd ; upon 
any supposition which could have been the foundation of it. 
But his historic doubts, and his historic certainties, have always 
appeared to me to have something more singular in them than 
those of any other person. But the fact is, il ne paroit s'en 
douter desire, il n'y point de secret impenetrable pour lui. 
Yours most affectionately." 

"GERNETTO 

" That is the Comte Mellario's country 
house 14 miles from Milan. 

"Saturday m., July 5th, 1778 

"I received here this morning yours of the i8th of last 
month. It came to Milan last night. I am here and alone 
with Mie Mie and her grandmother Me. la Comtesse. It 
is quite a babel such a jargon of Milannois Italian, French and 
English. Poor Robert walks about and has not a person who 
can understand him, but his fellow servt. Me. la Comtesse 
does not speak French well and poor Mie Mie rings the 
changes upon the three languages, in defiance of every part of 
speech. There are a great many of the clergy in the neighbour- 
hood, but they speak no other language but Italian and that of 
this country only. The houses convince me as well as many 
other things that I am far from England or even from France, 
but the country otherwise is very English : the verdure is very 
good and the enclosures the same, the trees are chiefly mul- 
berry trees which they are too apt to strip for the use of the 
silk worms, but about this place are planted a great many 
chesnuts, hornbeam and oak. I wish that they approached 
the house nearer than they do. However this is kept very cool, 
it is a very large one, exceeding good apartments and in the 
Italian manner well fitted up. I think that the Comte told me 
his improvements as he calls them cost him 25,000 English 
and so I should imagine. I wish that our countryman Mr 
Brown l had been consulted and that we had a cook from Frog- 
nal. It is one of my misfortunes at present to have lost my 
appetite but if I had not I should be much embarrassed how 
to gratify it. A poor miserable small boiled chicken is as 
regularly placed on my side at dinner as my couvert ; with that, 
1 "Capability" Brown ; died 1783. 



236 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

an egg and a few cherries, I am kept alive. Mie Mie mange 
de tout et rien ne lui deplait ; elle est en cela, pour le moment, 
moins a plaindre que moi. Her mother was here a week but 
has left us. Warner s'ennuye beaucoup. Je n'en suis pas 
surpris. I have at present fixed the beginning of September 
for my return, if ye weather should be then tolerably cool and 
towards the end of it, I hope that you will hear of me at Calais, 
waiting, and not long, for a conveyance to England. You will 
be so good before that time as to lett me know where you will 
then be for I shall be very happy to see you and to find you 
all well. I have had three letters from you besides that which 
I've received to-day, in all I am much obliged to you for them. 
They are a great relief to me. I hope never to stand any more 
in the same need of giving you so much trouble. For it is 
not my intention ever more to be at so great a distance from 
home. How my wishes will be hereafter accomplished with- 
out it I do not know. I must trust to the chapter of accidents. 
Every expectation with which I could have been furnished by 
reasons of humanity or propriety have failed me. But I have 
done what I think was right for me to do, and it will now be 
as right for me to be resigned to what is not at my disposal. 
This post has brought me oblique accounts of the Commissioners. 
I hear that their passage was a very favourable one, and that 
they are likely to meet with more success than has been pre- 
dicted. You may easily conceive on how many accounts I am 
happy at this prospect ; I hope that whatever satisfaction my 
own life is deprived of, I shall never be insensible to the 
feelings of my friends. I am assured that Lady C[arlisle] is out 
of danger, but there is still left an ugly complaint, the entire 
cure of which Mrs Potts is afraid will be tedious. I beg you 
not to suffer any part of your pleasure in contemplating the 
views between Margate and Dartford to be diminished by 
comparisons which have no foundation. I do assure you that 
you must travel many days elsewhere to see what on every 
account is so agreeable as to the security in which you live, 
perhaps that may be more owing to poverty than police. In 
lodging houses at publick places I do not conceive that there 
are great prizes to be found. But the civility and officimente 
with which you are served is pleasing lett the motive be what 
it will. I believe in most cases of that sort we had better 
avoid for our own comfort too nice a scrutiny. The situation 
of our fleets do certainly give a prospect of war, but my corre- 
spondents assure me that of peace is the most probable. How- 
ever I hope that a safe passage will be provided for me to my 
own country the first week of October. An invasion is what I 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 237 

have long dreaded in my own mind as a great phantom, and 
I have been authorised to think so from the soberest people 
among those who should invade us. But camps and regiments 
etc., may not have been without their use. I beg my love to 
all the family, and tell Lady Middleton that I drank her health 
with Warner last Monday. I hope that the next post will bring 
me a letter from Charles." 

[To CHARLES TOWNSHEND] 

" MILAN 
" 28th July 

" I do not know very well at present how the account stands 
between us in regard to letters nor with your sister Mary 
either, but I suppose that will not signify while the bailee, of 
trade in respect to correspondence must be so much of your 
side, that I have everything to learn from you and nothing to 
inform you. I am to wait for the event of the two fleets and to 
know if there is any account and what of the Commissioners. I 
hope that I shall have an e"claircissement on both these points 
in about a week, or ten days, and that there is no truth in the 
Spaniards having added to the strength of the French fleet or 
that Sr. H. Clinton has mett with a rebuff in America or Lord 
Cornwallis who was detached by him, for both these things are 
brought to us here as news in the Berne Gazette as an article 
from Paris, furnished as I suppose by Franklin. 1 The Stocks I 
see rather rise and the American ships are arrived, so far so 
good. Here it is too hot to hold au pied de la lettre. I have 
no hope but in a storm of thunder and lightning because they 
are accompanied with rain and this remedy cannot be worse 
than the disease because they can only procure me a more sudden 
dissolution. I have done inquiring about the degrees of heat, 
for it surpasses all common barometers. I am in a constant 
sweat which they tell me is wholesome. Warner eats notwith- 
standing comme quatre. I beg my kind compts. to Mr 
Townshend and tell him that I saw the other day a letter from 
the Professor of Modern Languages at Cambridge to the Comte 
Fermian, and of three French words in the superscription of his 
letter he contrives to spell two of them wrong. He says that 
the place he holds is one which the son of the first nobleman in 
the land might have accepted of. It is all in what he calls 
English and is full of such slip slop as a laundry maid would 
be ashamed of. It would have diverted me much if I had not 
seen it in the hands of a foreign Minister. Lady Townshend's 

1 Benjamin Franklin. Clinton evacuated Philadelphia in June 1778. 



238 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

quarrel and pursuit of her own tenant is admirable. I do not 
believe there is an Italian character like her. 1 It is quite the 
growth of our country. The reconciliation between Lord T. 
and his son I take it for granted is only a patched up peace. 
I have no dependence on its duration. My love to Mary. I 
shall write to her by the next post. I must be wrote to here 
till after the first Tuesday or Friday in September and then to 
Paris for there I shall be the latter end of that month. Mie Mie 
thanks you for your kind mention of her and so do I. What is 
to become of us ? Are we to have war ? if we have will it last 
long? What is to be the state of our funds? What changes 
are there to be in Administration ? These are my chief points 
of enquiry. Bankruptcy and separations etc. may come in 
by way of episodes. Miss L. Selwyn condoled with me on the 
loss of Lady Holland. 2 I am afraid that her condolence was 
only premature for I have not yet heard that she is dead, and 
since that have had a letter from Lady Ossory but by that 
I find that it is a very desperate case. Remember me to your 
brother and to all his family. He says that he should like 
to be at Milan. If he was all I can say is that la graisse seroit 
bien tot fondue. Such a heat I never felt but I am well not- 
withstanding and most affectionately yours. Pray write to me 
often in this critical time of news." 

[To MARY TOWNSHEND] 

" MILAN 
"Saturday, August ist 

" Yesterday brought me a letter from Charles which I shall 
not acknowledge by this post, because I wrote to him the last, 
and it is your turn to be tormented next. I take it for granted 
that this will find you returned from Frognal, and I hope all of 
you much better for your expedition. Miss L. Selwyn wrote 
to me and gave me one day more in the month of June than 
that month ever contained, and condoled with me on the loss 
of Lady Holld. who is as yet alive, but that is as much as I 
believe can with truth be said. I continue well, but cannot stir 
from my couch till the evening from the excessive heat. But 
then Mie Mie and I go out airing, and we have a kind of 
Vauxhall now for her amusement, which is about as good as 
Marybone. But they admire it, and think it quite a 1'angloise. 
There is musick, Rafraichissement. and marionettes, and the 
Archduke walks abt. like the D. of York, so I say that 
with a prince or two more, it would be as good as Marybone. 

1 Audrey, Lady Townshend, died 1788. 

2 Lady Holland died on the 6th October. 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 239 

Warner leaves me in a day or two to go to Venice, and will be 
gone about twelve days, he says. I could not say anything to 
discourage him ; for I really think it would be unreasonable, 
and being quite well, my divine is of no use to me. Dr Gemm 
was prevented from coming to me by a feaver which he con- 
tracted after his attendance on Miss Seymour. My letters of 
yesterday carry an air of peace, I hope in God that I shall not 
be kept a prisoner in Paris. I must be there about a fortnight, 
but no more, so in the middle of October I am in hopes to see 
you in Burlington Street. I am in the utmost impatience to 
hear of the Brest Fleets, the Spanish Negociation, Destains 
fleet, and of the Commissioners ; poor Lady Holland I quite 
despair of. I agree with you that I did the best thing which 
I could do for Mie Mie, in giving her up for I do not see that 
I could safely do else. But it is by no means a prevailing 
opinion here, even among her own relations, that it was the 
best thing which could have been done for her, and had they 
known what they know now, they would not I believe have 
sent for her so soon, but I hope that before I go, something will 
be settled in regard to her education which will putt it on a 
better foot than it now is. There is some difference upon other 
points, among her relations, about which I hope that they will 
agree, and if they do, I shall, I fancy, find no difficulty in having 
my plan adopted, although La Neutralita fra due donne che ci 
sono equalemente amiche quantunque si un disjustate fra di 
esse per affari nei quati non abbiamo alenna partes 6 un punto 
difficile. 

"There is some Italian for you. I think that it will be in 
the second week of next month that I shall leave this place, so 
your last letter may be wrote in the last week of this. I shall 
be about the 2Oth of September at Lyons, and in Paris the 26th 
or 2/th. I dread my journey through Savoye more than any- 
thing. Who is the lady who intended to hang herself for Lord 
Tyrconnel ? What Beauclerk is it who is gone off? How many 
more are undone? When shall you return to town? Is there 
to be a change of administration? Will the Americans treat? 
Will the Stocks arise? Can you answer any of these ques- 
tions ? I beg my love to the family and my compliments to your 
neighbour Mrs Beevers. If I can do anything for you in 
Paris pray let me know. I hope that you forgive my troubling 
you with such frequent and such long letters. 

" I hope never more to write to you at so great a distance. If 
I take a trip at some other time, as far as Paris, yt. I shall 
engage you to go with me, but that does not appear probable 
or indeed reasonable to hope for. Mie Mie desires to be 



240 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

remembered, elle parle son retour comme d'une chose certaine 
je serais bien aise qu'elle fut douteuse. Yours most truly, and 
most affectionately." 

" MILAN 
[Sept. 1778] 

" I take my leave of the A. Duke and Arch Duchess to- 
morrow night, where there will be a drawing room, and a 
Baisemains, for great people here : it is her fete. The Dutchess 
of Parma has been here to whom I was presented, and with 
whom I afterwards dined, and her brother the Arch D. and 
Arch Dse. at Comte Fermian's. She received me with the 
greatest affability imaginable and seems a very sensible woman, 
with some singularity of dress, and amusement. She is tall 
and well shaped but seemed to be big with child, so I could not 
very well judge of that. She is very genteel, but as to her 
head, notwithstanding her high forehead, she had her hair 
combed back flatt and a great many diamonds upon that, and 
an old fashioned cap and pinners pinned up. She is very fair, 
beaucoup de charactere une Phisionomie spirituelle, an air of 
activity : and one of her favourite passions is for horses. She 
speaks French, and Italian extremely well, and without that 
German accent which her brother the Arch D. has. She is 
very like him and the Emperor, and indeed the whole family. 
She invited me to come to Parma, and seemed much surprised, 
that I had been so long in Italy, and that I had seen no other 
town than Milan. I could not explain that to her R. Highness 
although I do not doubt but others have : and with all my 
heart. I like her so well that if I could have staid longer in 
Italy, I would certainly have gone to Parma. I like Princes 
very well, if they know the necessite de plaire. Les moyens 
n'en content beaucoup aux personnes de leur Rang. Before she 
went away, she was to see all that Milan could show her, and 
when she was at the Opera she went into the Rooms of the 
Ridotto, before the Opera began ; I had leave to carry Mie Mie 
there, and Mme. Crevelli, one of the dames d'honneur, presented 
her to the Dutchess. The Arch Dutchess spied her out first, 
and said je ferai venir ma belle sceur pour lui parler ; she did 
so, and it gave me great pleasure to see how well the child 
acquitted herself. She spoke to her in french sans confusion, 
et avec beaucoup de grace, then in Italian to some of the 
Ladies who asked me if she spoke English as well. I said 
pas le moins. They were mightily pleased with her, and the 
Cardinal Dorini, whose Mother is Mie Mie's great Aunt, by her 
father's side, talked to her a great deal, I assured his eminence 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 241 

que pour avoir etc" six ans en Angleterre elle n'en etait pas 
moins bonne Chatolique. Oh, je le crois bien, Monsieur me 
dit-il, et mille fois plus spirituelle, j'en suis persuade ; la reponse 
fut jolie et honnete. I like that Cardinal much, but on account 
of some coolness in the family, altho' I was then at Gennetto, 
but four miles from him, I could not continue to improve our 
acquaintance, and Mme. Mellario, Mie Mie's G. Mother, carried 
us there but once. 

" The affairs in Bohemia go very ill for the Queen, the G. 
Duke and Dutchesse are gone from Florence to pass the 
Winter at Vienna, to comfort the old lady. What Princesse 
have we to comfort us ? I hear the Duke of Gloucester ?] goes to 
the K[ing] of P[russia]. I do not approve that measure. But 
why will he not take the D. of Cumberland ?] with him, or is not 
that his Element? If T. Cov. has Mrs Eth.'s Estate in Kent or 
anywhere else, my friend the Peer will be disappointed. I wish, 
for my part, that he would leave it to the prodigal son on 
certain Conditions and under certain restrictions. But if N. 
Cray should be to be lett, will Tommy have it ? Or Hall place, 
for I suppose, that will come to Market soon. 

" I long for some House out of town, and if these are not to 
be had, or upon too high terms for me, I must have a less : but 
the best, and the cheapest thing for me is to be as much out of 
London as I can. You know too well, among my other foibles, 
my ungovernable passion for play, and I want to put an entire 
end to it, for many reasons, if more than one was necessary. 
Here I have been very discreet, for altho' in these Ridotto 
rooms, there were no less than twelve Pharo tables, each 
covered with 1200 sequins, and this every night, and all night 
I believe, I have ventured but one Guinea since I have been 
here, and for a few times at Paris with the Pope's Nuncio at 
Loto which is a game not very likely to tempt, or to ruin me. 
In short, I hope to do at least what a great many do, which is 
to die corrige, if not before. It is a pity that we are all so 
mistaken as to the period, and defer acquiring any prudence 
till it becomes almost of no use to us. You see for want of 
news how I am obliged to preach, without thinking, that when 
you have nothing to say there is still an easier as well as a 
meilleur parti a prendre. But you must lett me apologise for 
my scribbling, and would ever make me believe that my letters 
were agreable to you. I hope that they are so, for the only 
reason for which they can be so and that you believe me to be 
what I really am, most affectionately yours. My kind compli- 
ments to all, and many thanks to Charles. Mie Mie desires 
me to say everything for her which she wishes to say and 



242 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

write for herself, and which I wish as much as she can do, that 
she may!" "MlEMlE" 1 

" We can do no better as yet, because when I came here, 
the first principle of education which I heard advanced, was, 
that a child should learn nothing till it was ten years old, I am 
tempted to wish que cela fut possible." 

" GERNETTO 
"Wednesday m., 8th [Sept. 1778] 

" Our Voyage here finishes on Saturday. I went to Milan on 
Monday to dine with Comte Permian, and to receive my Letters, 
among others I had the pleasure of your last, which was a kind 
of Postcript to the former one, which I answered last week : this 
goes on Saturday ; indeed I cannot complain of you, no more 
in the circumstance of writing, than on any other account, you 
and your Brothers have been very kind in that respect ; and 
it is what I am too reasonable to expect from Mr Townshend. 
It is enough for me that I know that he is well ; and that I am 
likely to pass a great many more days with him : which will 
allways give me much satisfaction. But at this distance, one is 
more inquisitive after persons, and things, than when we are at 
home ; and upon my first coming into this Country, I was very 
much without Intelligence. Now I am not perhaps in a greater 
certainty of what is likely to happen, but those are inconveni- 
ences which I must share in common with others. I hope, as 
the declaration of War has not yet happened, it will at least be 
deferred till I gett safe into my own House, which I hope will 
be very early in October. The prospect of peace is pleasant, 
and it is with prospects, and hopes, that I must be satisfied, and 
these I cannot allways have neither. I have reason to think 
that L. Carlisle is gott safe to N. York. I am told that the 
Commissioners will have some people to treat with them. But 
who, or upon what terms, I am yet to learn. However, so far 
so good. L/' C. is also out of Danger, I hope, and the only dis- 
order left not likely to have any serious Consequences. All 
these things, about which I was ignorant, added to a weight 
which I have now and then upon my Spirits, made me very 
unhappy, when I came into this Country first. I am better now, 
because as my mind is more informed of everything, I know 
better what I may hope for, and what I must despair of, and by 
that means may be better able to secure to myself some degree 
of tranquillity, which I ought to seek for when I have done my 

1 In " Mie Mie's " handwriting. 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 243 

utmost, and which I hope that I shall find ; But that must be 
in my own Country ; I am sure that it cannot be here. Mie 
Mie and her Grandmother and I have been chiefly together at 
this place about three weeks ; and I have had some very inter- 
esting Conversations with the old Lady on the subject of her 
Grand-daughter, whom she seems really to love, and whose 
wellfare she would be happy to procure. We are much more 
agreed upon the Nature of the disease than about the Remedy. 
I believe that if I was a Catholick, there would be no difficulty 
in obtaining what I desire ; and even that might be remov'd, if 
it was not for the obstinacy of those whose Religion I am as 
yet to learn, as well as everything else which can be of use to 
poor Mie Mie, all the rest of her Parents and friends seem to 
have conceived so good an opinion of me, from my care of her ; 
and seem to confess that what I wish is so reasonable, that if I 
had not an opposition from one quarter I might, by giving 
Satisfaction in regard to their Chatolicite, have the Direction of 
her in all other points ; and in that I do not desire it. Je ne 
finirai pas la vie avec le metier de Convertisseur, ni je ne me 
chargerai pas non plus du Salut de personne ; le principal de ce 
que je voudrais procurer pour Mie Mie, serait la morale, et les 
bonnes mceurs and from a Parent one should expect to find 
no Obstacle. But it will be to that, that she will owe all the 
misfortunes of her life, and I may quote to you what I saw 
wrote under a Picture at Turin, which was a Passion : Chi n'e 
stato la Cagione, meno si pente. However, before I leave Milan, 
I shall have settled, or not settled, something concerning her 
Education, with those of her family, who are the most reason- 
able and then I will endeavour to make up my mind to what 
may be the issue of it. On Sunday Me. la Comtesse, Mie Mie 
and I dined in a Convent of Benedictines a few miles from 
hence, two of the religieuses are sisters to la Comtesse. It was 
the best dinner I have had since I came into Italy, for it was 
the least nasty. We dined in a large salon, which is a kind of 
parlour near the Grille, on the other side dined the nuns, waited 
upon by the soeurs converses. Mie Mie not being seven years old, 
had permission to run in and out the Convent the whole day. 
Before dinner we sate upon the landing place of a large stone 
stair case and the great doors of the Convent were open. One 
side of the threshold sate the Abbesse, and some of the nuns, 
on the other Me. la Comtesse and I. I received a great many 
compliments on Mie Mie's account, some of which were really 
more due to her than to myself. On lui trouva une infinite des 
graces dans ses manieres, which she always had, aussi 1'honnetete 
lui est fait naturelle, lorsque cette humeur lui prend. They 



244 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

made her a present of a basket of all kinds of toys, and sweet 
meats made in the Convent and she was very happy the whole 
day. The heat was excessive. It was 23 degrees by Reaumur's 
Thermometre, as I have been told, and we have half a degree 
more to expect. After dinner I went into an appartement which 
is for the use of the Cardinal Archevecque upon his visitation, 
and lay down on his Eminency's bed till the cool of the evening 
and it was time to return home. The Q. of Hungary, I hear, is 
making up matters with the K. of Prussia. Will Spain assist 
us with her mediation ? How long shall you stay at Margate ? 
My last letter was directed to you there. I beg my compli- 
ments to Mrs Terry but it is to Mrs Webb that I acknowledge 
my greater obligation. Your situation and feelings about Miss 
Broderick are so natural, and easy to be conceived that I 
cannot but share your anxiety about her, which I hope, however, 
to hear, is at an end. It is no part of my intention nor is it my 
disposition to love or be anxious about Mie Mie so exclusively 
that I cannot interest myself in what concerns persons so nearly 
related to me, and for whom I shall ever preserve the tenderest 
regard. But you will allow infelicity to be a little peculiar that 
sans etre, ou pere ou mere, j'en aurais toute Pinquietude, et rien 
que cela. You tell me that L[ord] R[obert] B[ertie] is better. I 
therefore must be thought to have been very premature in what I 
have said upon a supposition that it might have been otherwise. 
I think still that between you and I, there is no life so little to be 
depended upon and at no time should I be surprised to hear of 
wt. seems at present postponed. I am sure that Charles and 
I have neither of us a desire that such an event should not be 
as late as he can wish, but if it does happen, I have told you 
wt. I wished to have known, that is to you, and to Charles. 
But if I had any other smaller place which was an agreable 
one in your neighbourhood, I think I could go there in the fine 
weather and pass more time there agreably, than at Matson. I 
must determine between one. of these, and the neighbour- 
hood of Windsor before next Spring. However I will talk this 
matter over with you on my return. 

" Lady Holland's place at Kingsgate must have amused you 
much more than it would have done me. I was disposed to be 
grave at many things I saw there were in his life time ; there 
is nothing can now bring him to my mind and poor Lady 
Holland, but brings very melancholy thoughts at the same time. 
I see your news of the stocks confirmed by the papers, the least 
rise gives me some kind of hopes, not of my being rich, but of 
my country being less poor and undone. I was very unlucky 
in my visit to Lord Ossory's last November. Had I stayed a 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 245 

few days longer in town I should have sold my stock upon a 
rise of 2^ and it is now fallen io below what the price was when 
I bought it. But there it must now remain till better times. I 
believe if it ever rises to the half of what it was, I shall sell out 
and try a mortgage. Lady Middleton is a better manager of 
money than I am and for the future I shall ask her advice. 
You ask me about the poor Rena, 1 which looks as if you was 
more sentimental than I am. That I cannot allow although I 
know que vous avez le cosur tres bon : no, I have not seen her, 
nor made any enquiries after her. Have I not had assez de 
separations? assez de regrets? assez de conges? desormais il 
me faudra plutot des detachments, que de nouvelles occasions 
de renouveller des liaisons qui ne peuvent me procure que du 
chagrin ou du ridicule. The last thing I heard of her was 
that she was well, e Ricca, ma molto invecciata ; jugez done du 
reste. I am mighty happy to find that you think my friend 
Lord C[arlisle] is likely to return avec le meilleur des tous. I 
shall be glad that he returns safe, and that he finds all his 
family as he left it. I am convinced that he will have done all 
that could have been expected, and I think that his good 
intentions will do him honour, and I hope, by that, and his 
future discretion he will extricate himself and his children out 
of those distresses which those of other people of his acquaint- 
ances are exposed to by their vanity and dissipation. He has 
certainly a right to be well spoke of, and considered upon this 
account. But I am afraid that it had like to have been 
purchased with the life of poor Lady C. which would have been 
paying a great deal too dear for any advantage which he will 
derive from it. The accounts which I have of Lady Holland 
differ, but all unite in saying [they] had better pass next winter 
abroad. I hope that no such remedies will be deemed necessary 
for Miss B. If they were and Lady M. were to go to Nice I 
should go to Geneva, and in a Felouque go from thence to Nice 
to meet her and not pass through Savoie on my return home. 
The next post I flatter myself will bring a letter from Charles. 
He is a better nouvelliste than any of the family, although some 
of his intelligence comes to him through a very corrupted 
channel. With a piece of English news more than is to be seen 
in the common papers gives me a very good air at the Comte 
Fermian's table. He is the best English man of any foreigner 
that I have known and I seem to be extremely in his good 
graces. Adieu for the present with my best and kindest compli- 
ments to all the family, I keep the rest of my paper for any occa- 
sion which I may have to add more before Saturday evening." 

1 Lord March's old mistress. 



246 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

Selwyn left Milan on I7th September, travelling homewards 
by way of Genoa, Nice and Aix. He was somewhat consoled 
at parting from Mie Mie by the understanding that, in the 
following year, she was to return to Paris to be educated ; and 
Selwyn had hopes that she might even be allowed to come to 
England. 



[To CHARLES TOWNSHEND] 



" MILAN 
"Wednesday, i6th Sept. 1778 



" I received no letters by yesterday's post, nor do I now 
expect to receive any more here or will, I suppose, any more be 
wrote, or directed to me in Italy. However I cannot go away 
without thanking you for all which I have received from you, 
and for your kindness and attention to me on all occasions. I 
was to have sett out this morning, and all my goods come 
packed up of every kind, but I received a message from the 
Arch Duke which has obliged me to stay one day more. I am 
to go to-morrow only twenty miles to the house of a Comte 
Trotti, which he has offered me for my accomodation on the 
road at Pavia, and there I shall stay all to-morrow, and from 
thence to the English Consul's at Genoa, there I shall stay till 
I embark, which will depend upon the weather, I hope not 
above two days. I intend to land at Nice or Antibes, and to 
gett to Paris in the first week of next month. If I do not hear 
some news of England at Genoa, I shall hear more that I can 
depend upon till I shall be in Paris, where my chief dependance 
will be upon you. I have had a slight degree of fever this 
week, I suppose arising partly from the change of weather, and 
partly from the agitation de mon depart. But I am now well ; 
and perfectly satisfied with everybody here, as they profess to 
have been with me. I have obtained the points I wanted to 
carry, in the only mode which reason could well fortify, and 
those who of all reasonable beings seemed the most perverse, 
have at last acted by me and by those for whom I interest 
myself, in a manner that I am sure nobody will ever disapprove. 
I shall leave the country without being either poisonned, or 
pillaged ; all those from whom good treatment could be expected, 
I have experienced as much as possible. So, whatever dis- 
agreeable feelings I may find for the moment, upon leaving 
Mie Mie, things are now in so good a tract both for her and 
for my own peace of mind, that I am quite at ease, hoping that 
no accidents will happen, which it is not my temper to anticipate 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 247 

unnecessarily by imagination. I beg my love to all the family. 
I suppose that my time of coming will be with the first wood 
cock, for as I conceive the sea will be calmed, when the frosty 
weather begins, so it will be about that time that I shall be, in 
all probability at Calais. I have one more favour to ask of you, 
which is that you will present my best respects to Lady Corn- 
wallis. I allways took very kindly of her, her concern about 
me in respect to the child. She may be assured that at this 
moment there is nothing to fear for either of us, more than for 
what no one can foresee and to which all mankind is liable, 
and that I am now not without hopes of bringing her once more 
to pay her respects to her, if her Ladyship permitts it. I am 
dear Charles, most affectionately yours." 



" AlX-EN-PROVENCE 

"Sunday, 2?th September 

" This letter has travelled in my pocket book from Milan. I 
stay'd at Genoa till Monday morning and landed at Antibes, 
but till Thursday evening I was putting in at all the Italian 
towns in the Genoese State on the coast. Sometimes I thought 
that [there] was too much wind and that I should be sick, that 
there was none at all, so we were to go a la rames. The towns 
from the coast were pretty beyond description, but very poor 
ones when you came into them, and in one [of] them I was 
reduced to beg a night's lodging for myself and my servants, in 
a Convent of Franciscans del'Annunciata, where I was suffocated 
as much as if I had lived in Falstaff s basket. The Convents 
at each town shewed me all the attention the place admitted. 
The orchards were full of Lemon trees, and these loaded with 
lemons, down to the ground, like our apple orchards in Glou- 
cestershire. Warner thought that their being gathered so fresh, 
made his punch so much better, that I thought I should never 
have gott him out of the country. I shall stay to repose my- 
self here to-day. I have received a slight hurt in my leg. 
All the English have been sent from home, and there are 
here but a few prisoners taken in a Privatur, I have sent 
Warner twice, with what succour I can afford them. I am 
affectionately." 

Selwyn, like Horace Walpole, and the rest of his circle, was 
a great admirer of Madame de SeVigne. On his way home 
through Provence he could not resist the temptation to visit 
Grignan, where he wrote the following letter: 



248 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

[To MARY TOWNSHEND] 

"A GRIGNAN 
"Friday, 2 Oct. 1778 

" If you were of opinion that I could not leave Italy senti- 
mentally without going to Florence, which I could not do with 
any propriety, and to which I was also repugnant, par le 
sentiment meme, I am sure that you will think it a great heresy 
if I should have passed through Provence, without coming to 
the shrine that is in the Sanctuary here ; and I thought also 
that you would not forgive me if being here I had not wrote a 
letter from this place. I was going to write to my Lady Ossory, 
who is as well as yourself a professed admirer of Me. de 
Sevigne, but when I reflected upon her kind of devotion and 
yours, I thought that besides les droits de Parente, je pouvois 
entre voir dans votre spiritualite, comme dans celle de Me. 
Guion, plus de quietisme pour ainsi dire, que dans la sienne et 
qui merite, a mon estime, la preference. I finished a letter to 
Charles when I was at Aix and which I had begun at Milan. 
I reserved writing to you till I should come here. I went from 
Aix to Nismes, where I saw des morceaux d'antiquites which 
pleased me much. I stopped on the road at St Rema where 
there were a triumphal arch and a Mausolee, as it is call'd both 
said to be erected by C. Marius after his defeat of the Cimbri 
in that place. They are both beautifull. I saw at Nismes the 
Amphitheatre, the Temple of Diana and the Maison quarriee (?) 
which pleased me the most. I passed by the Pont du gard, 
another great object of curiosity and came the day before 
yesterday to Avignon, which had no one thing to recommend 
it and where I was almost suffocated with dirt and stink. I 
both dined and supped by choice at the Table d'Hote which 
was in the Inn where I lodged, and the Company was as 
curiously sorted as it could be. We had French officers, 
chanoines, women who were travelling like myself, and two 
gentlemen belonging to the revolted Colonies, one going to 
Virginia and the other to Philadelphia. From Avignon I came 
here. I dined at a house belonging to the Bishop of Avignon, 
within a few leagues of Grignan, with Monsieur le Cure, and 
another Ecclesiastique, whom they called le Doyen, and had an 
excellent dinner. It was there that 1'esprit de Me. de Sevigne 
began to influence, for I was received with as much civility by 
these two divines, and the servants had as much empressement 
to gett me everything I wanted as if Me. de Sevigne herself 
had been with me. I did not get to the Chateau till within 
half an hour of its growing dark, but I was time enough to 
admire the belle terrasse and to see the principal appartments. 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 249 

My cook was the person whom I sent on before, so although 
there was no body here but the Intendant, I found every thing 
as ready for my reception as if I had been expected a twelve 
month, and an order had been left by the proprietor of the 
Chateau, that I should be treated in the manner I have been. 
Since neither le Comte de Grignan, Madame le Comtesse nor 
Me. de SeVigne herself were here to do the honours, it was 
impossible to expect so much attention. I can never get it out 
of my mind that by some incomprehensible interposition she 
has not influenced on this occasion. The Chateau, instead of 
being in the ruinous condition and without furniture as I ex- 
pected is in the greatest repair and perfectly well furnished. 
Monsieur de Grignan's furniture after his death or his son's was 
sold for the use of his creditors and bought by Jews who have 
dispersed it. But the Marshal de Mai, who died two years 
ago in that horrible manner which you heard of, laid out abt. 
quarante mille ecus in the repairs and furniture. The estate 
was purchased by his father and now belongs to his nephew 
Monsieur d'Olivry (?). I should as you will imagine have been 
as well pleased if the old furniture had been here, but however 
there is enough. Here are pictures and very good ones of the 
Grignans and Adhemars without end. But of furniture I could 
find nothing but a little black cabinet which they tell me was 
in Me. Sevigne's appartment and which M. Pince was so good 
as to offer me. It is more respectable than Portatif, so for the 
present I will leave it here. In the room where I lay and in 
which Me. de Sevigne expired and from whence I write you this 
letter is a picture of her, it is a half length but I do not like 
it so well as my own. I found the original of mine at Aix. . . . 
It is with the other family pictures at Me. de Viner's whose 
husband was the grandson of Pauline. The Collegiate Church 
is under the terrasse in the sanctuary ; there is M. de S. buried. 
Monsieur de Mai has erected a monument to her although not 
related to the family. I shall make my visit there when I have 
breakfasted and give you another time an account of it. Most 
things, especially recommended in the manner this has been 
fall short of your expectation, but this Chateau has much ex- 
ceeded it. The view from the terrasse is the finest I ever saw, 
the meadows under it of the finest verdure, and the prospect 
the most varied, and surmounted by mountains like the Alps. 
The rooms are spacious, and a great many very well distributed. 
In short, it has paid me very well for the trouble which I gave 
myself in going so far out of my way. I shall be, I hope at 
Lyons if not to-morrow night, on Sunday and on Tuesday I 
will proceed to Paris. I must stay there at least a fortnight 



250 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

and shall then gett to England as soon as I can. I hope to 
receive some letters at Lyons and more at Paris. What is the 
present situation of our affairs, I am in perfect ignorance of and 
am afraid of being better informed. I am in pain about other 
things as you may imagine and for Lady Holland in particular. 
I am made easy at present about Mie Mie, and I hope that 
when I renew the subject with you, you will not disapprove of 
what I have done. I do assure you that when I came away the 
mother talked as reasonably to me about it as it was possible 
and with perfect disinterestedness. The rest of the family and 
others at Milan are satisfied with what I have proposed and so 
we parted perfect friends. I hope that you will not think me 
less reasonable than I hope that I have been. I am persuaded 
that I have your good wishes and that you will give me the 
best advice which can be administered to one who is on the 
verge into which my affections have betrayed me. I will take 
of it what I can, and what I cannot may not perhaps be the 
least wholesome, but il ne faut pas me confier dans le vif ; I can 
never part with her till I know that she will be in better hands 
than my own, which is all that I can now say. I hope that I 
shall hear from you before I leave Paris. I think whatever 
apology my other letters may want, you will excuse this being 
broke to you from this place from whence I do not believe you 
expected ever to receive a letter, if you did it must have been 
from me. The answer to it you will make immediately if not 
to myself and before you have read it out you will say II fait 
convenir, mon cher Oncle, que vous avez pousse vos extrava- 
gances et votre enthousiasme aussi loin que cela peut aller. J'y 
souviens. However it must be allowed also that where reason 
fails you, you may be sure of precedent. I thought indeed 
before I came here that Lady M. Coke had been the only 
possede'e who had been upon this pilgrimage and to be sure 
whoever has a mind to be singular is sure in her of an example. 
On ne peut segarer sur les traces d'Alcide. But they tell me 
here that her Ladyship was not by many the first who came 
upon this enquiry, and that it is a mania peculiar to the 
English, the more peculiar because they are English. Now I 
release you, remember me kindly to all the family. I hope 
to find Mr Townshend very well at my return and that I 
shall be able to amuse him with an account of my pranks. 
Yours most affectionately." 

To this letter Miss Townshend replied : " I am much flattered 
and obliged by your thinking me worthy of a letter from 
Grignan. When I heard of you in Provence I thought it im- 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 251 

possible that you should not make some detour to see the 
habitation of the Adhemars ; and it is a great satisfaction to me 
to hear that it is not in ruins, as I had been told. . . . Do not 
the French read Madame de Sevignd with the admiration 
that some of us do ; or does their religion surfeit them with 
visiting shrines and relics? ... I envy you seeing the family 
pictures, as I should like to put faces to my friends of that 
coterie" l 

"A LYONS 
" Sunday, 5th October [1778] 

" My last letter to you was from Grignan, and I have been ever 
since dans le plus profound recueillement. What I saw there 
after I was drest in the morning shall be the subject of another 
letter, or of our conversation. I found upon information that 
Lady Mary [Coke] had stayed there two days. The Duchess of 
Leinster was contented with one. Le Chapitre ne se lasse pas de 
parier de leur. precieux depot. 

" Monsieur le Bouilli has made me a present of a little ebony 
cabinet, le dernier des meubles qui restait, which was in Mme. 
de Sev.'s appartment, and where, he says, she kept her bijouterie. 
It was preserv'd by an old man who waited on her, and as he 
pretended, qui taillent ses plumes. Mais c'est un pais de super- 
stition, et de 1'egotisme de sorte que tout m'est suspect et 
apocriphe. 

" But if there should be any historical doubt about it, Horry 2 
shall clear it up for us. I could not get here till the day before 
yesterday, the road grew heavy with the rains which have fallen, 
and the post is si mal servie, that I am comme une tortue qui 
courrit en poste. I go part of my way to day, but I do not 
expect to be in Paris till this day seven-night. I hope that I 
shall have some news there. I have received no letters here. 
When does the Parliament in America permit our Congress to 
meet for the despatch of Business ? I wish that I had met with 
a Letter here from Charles. But he has supposed me further on 
my Road to Paris. I wish that I was there, all I meet now on 
the Road give me such news, faites a leur fantaisie que j'en 
suis en desespoir ; mais ils m'assurent en meme temps que Ton 
travaille a la pain apres avoir travaille pour nous perdre et avec 
trop de success. They write me word from Milan that Mie 
Mie has been since I left her sage, comme 1'enfant prodigue, 

1 Jesse, vol. iii. p. 328. 

2 Horace Walpole. 



252 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

c'est a dire jusques a 1' [?] il faut Ten croire sur leur paroles, mais 
les exces me font toujours suspect. If she is once in proper 
hands je serai tranquille sur le reste. My kind compliments to 
all, Charles desires me to bring him peace. I could have stuffed 
my Coach with olive Branches if that would have done. Shall 
we have peace ? and upon what terms ? Have you bought your 
Piece of Ground for your potatoes? How has the family at 
Matson fared, have you heard of them ? Who is to inhabit 
North Cray ? Will Hall Place be to let ? I dread to know what 
is become of poor Ly. Holl d> I am not, as you may imagine, 
without anxiety on Lord Carlisle's account. I shall meet the 
dowager in Paris, or at Chaillot. The sight of our Countrymen 
prisoners at Aix, me fit faire mauvais sang, and the wound in my 
leg is but just healed, I would have no Chirurgien, and so I had 
no help but from one I found with them. Adieu. Warner does 
not return to England. He has been very busy in reading the 
provencal and wanted to find Books wrote in the Languedoisen, 
wh. they tell me is a better language. He has as many dif- 
ferent patois's as the Workmen at Babel. I have bought one 
Provencal Book, but wether it will entertain you I know not. 
Their accent did not me, I know, it was horrible, and lasted till 
I came here. But from Sienna to Chalons sur Marne, there is 
really neither french or Italian, that does not more or less offend 
your ears among the common people. I shall myself be con- 
tented with that de ma propre paroisse." 

Selwyn arrived in Paris early in October, with his " cabinet 
d'ebene," and duly reported himself at the Convent St Joseph. 
Mme. du Defifand, writing to Walpole on 24th October, said : " I 
have not told you that he [Selwyn] has visited Grignan on his 
journey, and was received at the chateau by a kind of steward, 
or concierge, who gave him the room to sleep in where Mme. de 
Se"vign6 died. He has also seen her portrait, also that of Mme. 
de Grignan, and those of all the Grignans of whom she speaks 
in her letters. Further, he made him a present of a small ebony 
cabinet, which belonged to Madame ; it will arrive here immedi- 
ately." 

" PARIS 
"i4th October [1778] 

" I came here on Monday last, and have this afternoon 
received your letter of the 4th of this month, I sent to the Post 
House at Lyons, but found no letters for me there whatsoever, 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 253 

in regard to some upon business, I was so disappointed that 
I conclude there must have been some mistake or neglect about 
them. Those which I have received to-day have brought me 
an account of poor Lady Holland's death, which has so much 
dispirited me that I believe that you will quit this time for 
a very short letter. I had really so little hopes myself that 
although by those letters which I found on my arrival here, 
there seemed to be a great alteration for the better, as they 
called it, I never allowed myself to rejoice at it ; no one I 
believe ever yet recovered from the state in which she was 
represented to be. I hear also that the D. of Queensberry is 
extremely ill, so there may be a revolution in the affairs of my 
friend March. I am told that you expect peace in England, to 
tell you the truth, my hopes of that have diminished much 
since I came here. In short I am to-day quite out of sorts. I 
find my friend Me. du Deffands declining and we know how 
rapid changes are after fourscore. Lady Carlisle hopes, and 
expects her husband home very shortly, as she writes me word. 
His lawyer or steward however, expresses great anxiety about 
him, and has inspired me with it ... I am now plagued with 
Abbesse's. Those who are people of distinction, have a mixture 
of all the nonsense, pride, commesage, bavardise &c., and the 
devil knows what, that they exercise my patience beyond 
conception. They seemed to have carried into their convents 
all the imperfections of the world, and dressed them up in 
the habits and delusions of their religion, and if I was not too 
old to be so tartuffi'd by them I should never gett out of them 
one word of truth. But they are the heifers that I am to 
plough with (as the phrase is), so I must submitt. Mr Boone 
has been here and placed his daughter in the Abbaye" of 
Panthement, where I want to place Mie Mie, that is the 
convent which I shall recommend, if she is not placed with our 
English nunns. The family must determine upon the accounts 
which I shall give them of both. They will have till the spring 
to consider of it. I hope that when Charles returns to town he 
will send me some news, my love to him, and to the rest of the 
family. Yours most affectionately." 

" PARIS 
" Friday morn., 3oth Oct. 1778 

"The last post brought me very little publick news, but 
the account of an event very interesting to me which is March's 
succession. 1 He tells me that the D. of Q. has left him 
1 The third Duke of Queensberry died 22nd October 1778. 



254 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

everything but a few legacies. I will not disguise the satisfac- 
tion it gives me, I did not wish him to be a duke nor to have 
so large an estate and I wished less the D. of Q.'s death, 
but I think his Grace's will marks so strongly his friendship, 
affection and confidence in my friend, that it gives me great 
pleasure. I should think, but nobody has told me so, that 
Mr Douglas was disappointed, which it is my opinion that 
he would not have been if the Duchess had been the survivor. 
I don't know how that is, but I think that he has no reason 
to complain. La fortune a deja assez fait pour son Mignon. 
I have little more than a fortnight to stay here but you may, 
perhaps, hear of me for some time at Calais. I must have 
calm weather, or a la sua excellenz aura pausa, vi sara per me 
troppo di movimento, as the Captain of the Felouque told 
me, and I must enquire when I intend only to go to Parliament 
if I may not be carried to congress. I wish some news was 
come of the commissioners by my last letters, I should think 
that they would stay at N. York the whole winter. Yet Lady 
C. in her letter to me says that Ld. C. will be in England about 
the same time as myself. I should certainly not have done 
as Mr Boone has done, because my system of education would 
not send me to schools and convents for my daughter's educa- 
tion, if I had any. But Mie Mie is in less danger from my 
friend the Abbesse de Panthement, than from any other. She 
seems too much attached to the manners of the world to think 
of converting. She is a very sensible woman, tres decente, 
avec des manieres tres distinguees. I am at present happy 
enough that I shall gett Mie Mie out of Italy et de mauvaise 
Campagnie, till she grows up, for she must have had that in 
or out of an Italian Convent. Here, it will be my fault if 
that happens. I have had sad complaints of our English 
nuns at Pontoise, the La Superieure, I don't know her name, is 
I believe une fort plate dame. I was told the other day by 
a person who went to her upon business, that they met one 
of the Pensionnaires out in the town, walking with Abbes and I 
don't know who. Mie Mie will have liberty to come to me or 
to Me. de la Vanpalien, who is a great friend of mine, the 
Marechal Berasch's grand-daughter and our relation. But 
I hope no where else . . . Me. de la V. has two daughters 
of her own, but she brings them up at home and very well. 
She has desired me to lett her have the care of Mie Mie while 
she is in France ; I will ask for no other protection for her 
here. For I did not mean to bring her from her parents 
to be repandue dans le monde either in London or Paris. 
She says that she likes Matson better than any other place. 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 255 

If she persists in that I hope to be able to indulge her in it. 
I must own that London has lost its charms to me, in a great 
measure and that is why I wish for a place near it, because 
it may be more convenient than to be at a great distance, 
especially in the beginning of the spring or summer. Je me 
trouve blaze sur trop de choses, a vous dire la verite. I have 
been often told there are some pleasures for every season 
of life. I wish I could find out what I had now to choose out 
of. I only know at present what I have lost. But I will 
make the experiment if Mie Mie comes to me ; and if she 
does not I shall be plus endeffant que jamais. I am very 
unfortunate to have placed my happiness so much upon one 
bottom. But it is as you may say a scrape, a labyrinth, out 
of which I may perhaps find my way, but I have gone a great 
way to search it. Lady Rivers came here yesterday I hear, 
she was once an acquaintance of Me. du Deffand's, but she is 
now so deaf that I do not see how with their two infirmities, 
or rather deprivation of organs, their conversation can be 
carried on. ... I do not find here, that they have the least 
idea of Spain's being false to us. I am sure if they had that 
I should hear it. No, I hear now and then of peace being 
in a state of negotiation. I hope that it is true. Why should 
it not be so, when so many of both countries wish it ? What 
an extraordinary situation to be negotiating a peace before 
there is a declaration of war. Me. de Sevigne, Cabinet d'Ebene, 
is arrived and deposited dans la communaute" de St Joseph. . . . 

[Endorsed on wrapper : ] 

" You may gett your leg of pork and pease-pudden ready 
by the 2gih of next month." 

" PARIS 
"Thursday, igth Nov. [1778] 

" The Courier did not arrive here till yesterday at 10 o'clock. 
He gott into one vessel and putt his valise on board another, 
he sailed for Calais and all my letters for Ostende. This delay 
makes my arrival in London now more uncertain than ever. 
However I will go after dinner as far as Chantilly and I propose 
to be at Calais on Sunday and politiquer avec M. le due de Croz 
till I have a favourable wind. 

" The D. of O. has offered me his house in your neighbourhood 
and for a reason that I should be nearer by our family ; nothing 
can be so kind and obliging as his letters to me are. I have 
refused it, because ma premiere regie est de ne pas sortir de 



256 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

mon etat et to adhere to and be contented with what I have 
and as to being near you I am and allways shall be so where- 
ever I lodge, or in whatever country I may chance to reside. 
I hope that I shall never be again at a great distance from you 
or any of the family. I will never lose the memory of what 
my mother wished and I hoped, believed, and that was to 
cultivate Mr Townshend and his children. I daresay that you 
think me sincere and that love and respect for her will ever be 
ineffaceable and every thing she wished is my own inclination 
also. I hope to dine with you the latter end of next week. I 
will lett you know when I come what detained me here this 
last week." 

[Endorsed : " On m'arrache ma lettre . . ."] 

During the winter of 1778-1779, Selwyn was very much 
exercised in his mind as to whether he should really see Mie 
Mie in Paris in the following spring. Would her parents keep 
their half-promise or not? " Soyez sur," Madame wrote, " que 
vous aurez ce printemps notre chere Mie Mie, et qu'elle se porte 
bien." But Selwyn could not trust Madame. However, a 
second daughter was born to that lady in December, which 
perhaps made her more willing to part with her first. At all 
events, Mie Mie was despatched to Paris in April, and Selwyn 
hurried there to meet her. When he arrived he found that 
the Fagnanis expected him to go as far as Lyons. 

[To MARY TOWNSHEND] 

" PARIS 
" Monday, i;th April [1779] 

" You will be surprised, my dear Mary, that I have not wrote 
to you before. I intended to have wrote many letters this 
morning which I must now postpone. 

" I am obliged to sett out for Lyons this morning, and shall 
not be returned hither before the end of next week. Two mails 
were thrown over board coming in one of our packets from 
Ostende the 7th of this month. There were letters in them 
both for me which might have saved me this nouvel embarras 
qui me met en desespoir ; mes deux pauvres femmes en sont en 
desespoir aussi. But I found now that I should have gone to 
Lyons, the child will be there to-day, and I shall be there on 
Friday and bring her I hope myself to Paris. I should have 
said many more things to you, if I had had time, ces arrange- 
mens ou derangemens me tracassent infiniment. But there is 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 257 

no remedy that will not be to me worse than any disease which 
I can have in this world. I shall be impatient to hear from 
you. This letter will not probably go till Thursday next, so it 
will be this day seven night before it reaches you, that will be 
the 26th inst. I shall then, I hope, be setting out again for 
Paris. This is living en courier, et je ne me croyais pas fait 
pour cela. I was very well established here for some time, all 
mes soupers were arranged for ten days to come. Le menage 
etait monte, tout est demonte pour le moment. I beg my love 
to all the family. Pray lett me hear often from one or other of 
you when I come back from Lyons. I have had a pleasant 
journey here. My passage over the sea was but of three hours 
from one port to the other. Mes ennemis m'ont re?u a ici bras 
ouverts, et au Palais royal sur tout, qu'apergoient pas faire de 
plus mes amis. Je suis a cette heure cosmopolite de pure 
necessite." 

" PARIS 
"April [1779] 

[The first portion of this letter is taken up with a long 
account of an escapade of the Dowager Lady Carlisle's, which 
is not of importance.] 

"... Poor Lord Cornwallis, I wish anything may divert 
him from the thoughts of his calamity, and I wish Lady 
Middleton may be comforted for the loss of her son by the 
hopes and the fair prospect which there is of his future advan- 
tage. I desire my love to her and to all her children. The 
condemnation of the lace, which I hear from Warner, gives me 
concern on all accounts. I wish I had not advised or had had 
trusted solely to my care. 1 have not been a great, but I have 
been a very successful smuggler. As to peace or war, that is 
a tendre ground for me to walk upon here as a correspondent : 
I dined at the Due du Chatelet Saturday. He told me when 
I had spoke my mind to his brother-in-law Monsieur de 
Rochenart and to Monsieur de Chabannes, vous defendez une 
cause qui est perdue, we were speaking of America. The 
Marquis de Dumas qui plaisante sur tout, harped perpetually 
upon the quantity of Prizes we had taken and said, mais mon 
dieu, vous autres Anglais, vous aimez diablement du sucre, vous 
nous avez ote tout notre sucre. That is almost true, but cela ne 
nous adoucit pas. They asked me if the K. would make peace, 
suppose Spain was to join them. I assured them, if it did, 
Peace would be at a greater distance than ever. M. de 
Rochenart totally condemned the part they had taken in 
regard to our Colonies." 



On the 1 8th April Selwyn had written to Carlisle: "This 
afternoon I find tous mes projects pour le present sont sus- 
pendus. I am obliged to set out to-morrow for Lyons. It is 
so unexpected that it is by much the greatest embarras I ever 
felt, and a monstrous exercise of expense to me. Mie Mie will 
be there to-morrow. . . . God knows how much further I would 
go to conduct her safely. . . . Ma patience et ma perseverance 
sont inepuisables sur ce qui regarde Mie Mie" * And Madame du 
Deffand wrote to Walpole on the same date : " I believe if they 
refuse Lindor his Mimie, he will kill himself: it is a folly without 
precedent." On the next day she writes : " Lindor received a 
letter from Italy yesterday which necessitates him starting this 
morning for Lyons with his two women servants, to seek the 
little girl there. . . . The head of this poor man is turned ; his 
economy yields to the passion which he has for this Marmotte ; 
but there is sorrow in this, too." 

Selwyn duly travelled to Lyons, found Mie Mie awaiting 
him, and returned with her to Paris on 29th April, "drunken 
with joy," wrote Madame du Deffand, " but his drunkenness is 
very sad. . . . Lindor is waiting to know his [the Marquis 
Fagnani's] wishes in the matter. I have no doubt he will 
permit him to bring her to England ; I will see him go without 
much regret. You remember the definition you gave of him : 
une bete inspirte ; well, the inspirations are wanting ; I believe 
he is bored to death." He was not perhaps so bored as 
Madame imagined. But he was engaged in the harassing 
occupation of finding a school for a small child. 

[To MARY TOWNSHEND] 

" PARIS 
"Tuesday, 4th May [1779] 

" I received yours last night, and was sorry to find that 
when you wrote it mine was not come to hand. I deferred, 
it is true, writing to you longer than I intended, but it was 
owing to a great deal of business which I did not expect, 
coming upon me, and as unexpected a journey which I found 
myself obliged to take, as far as Lyons, with Mrs Webb and 
Nanny. I did not expect when I left England to have gone 
farther than Paris, and M. Fagnani would himself have saved 
me any sort of trouble or expense he could. But he is in a 

1 Carlisle MSS. Hist; MSS. Commission, p. 423. 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 259 

bad state of health, and his wife, from a tenderness which will 
appear to you incredible and inconsistent, desired me to meet 
him at Lyons, [?] mi con lei per il vesto del oraggio. So I 
did, notwithstanding his letter. As to herself, I had very little 
reason to expect that I should see her, till a letter of the /th 
of last month made me expect to find her at Loyns ; but it 
was either never her intention, or she changed it. There is 
no danger of seeing her in England, and very little in Paris 
as yet. I perfectly agree with you that the History of Mie 
Mie, and Yan Yan, as she used to call me when she began 
to speak, is an extraordinary one, et j'avoue aussi que j'y fais 
un Personage assez singulier, but, as I have told you before, 
and it is very true, that of all the Characters in this Drama, 
which is both tragical and comical, the singularity which 
perhaps in other respects may make a part of my Composition, 
will not appear in this to those who are acquainted with 
all the circumstances of it. Vous avez 1'esprit assez tendre, 
mais la Connoissance que chacun a de cette Affaire ne peut 
qu'etre fort bornee. I think that I know the fait and the 
foible of it. But I do not desire either to write or to talk of 
it. I wish only to breed up Mie Mie in such a manner as to 
make her beloved and respected, and to supply the want of 
feeling in other people. It would have been unfortunate 
enough for me, if I had had only the usual degree of sensibility 
on such an occasion, but to have added to that la tendresse 
de pere, et les entrailles de mere, is an insupportable burthen 
to my mind, and at my age. But I have endeavoured as yet 
with so much perseverance and patience to get out of this 
labyrinth, or what you properly call a scrape, I have had so 
much more success than I expected that I still flatter myself 
that I shall at last succeed. But I have fairly and candidly 
told you my motive and the source of this misfortune, which 
if it should prove to be only one to me, I shall be contented, 
as to suffer every degree of ridicule provided yet the poor child 
puisse en profiter par le suite. We are now in my Hotel at 
Paris, but Mie Mie will go this week to her Convent, and I 
to my Boudoir pour me remettre de tout le deplaisir que j'en 
resentirai. However, it is a faire le faut, as they call it. I 
hope it is reculer pour mieux sauter. Mme. 1'Abbesse and I 
are in pretty good humour with one another, and she will 
humour me, who am much more an enfant gate than Mie Mie. 
So I am to have her here to dine, and to read English with 
Mrs Webb, as often as I send my coach for her. We were in the 
Parlor last night for the first time. Mie Mie's physiognimie, 
son charactere d'esprit, et ses manieres, et ses graces, strike 



260 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

everybody as well as her being able to express herself so well 
in different languages. She has so much penetratron that elle 
vendra Mme. 1'Abesse et toutes ses religieuses en fort peu 
detours. But that I cannot help. With me, I should present 
to her objects of esteem, par preference, and not de faire une 
Comedie ; Mme. 1'Abesse la joue en perfection. I am indeed 
greatly and most sensibly obliged by the manner in which you 
express your anxiety to know in what state this matter is, as 
to giving up the child to me. She is certainly so, as much as 
words and writing can do it. But I know the restrictions 
at the same time, and inclinations of her family, and to gratify 
my own feelings, will do nothing to prejudice her interest, either 
now or in future times. My return to England therefore is 
uncertain, for I will not venture to carry Mie Mie from hence 
without the consent of her parents, and when I shall obtain 
that, I do not know. Mr F. is not here, I left him at Lyons. He 
had sent his daughter on to me, whom he thought to be at 
Paris, sur la route des Bourbonnais, so that I was obliged to 
make near 15 postes before I could overtake her and change 
the administration. To change yours in England is a work 
of some time, as you perceive. However, je 1'ai retiree des plus 
mauvaises mains auquelles il fut possible de la confier, et je 
ferai, aussi tout mon possible pour me rendre maitre de son 
sort, et pour le reste de sapre. 

" This letter does not go till Thursday, and my eyes will not 
permit of my writing any more to-day. . . . 

" My love to Mr Townshend, and to your brothers. 

"Mie Mie desires to be remembered to you all most kindly. 
I am, for my part, endeavouring to make her remember and 
forgett, but to do both c'est un ouvrage." 

"PARIS 
"Thursday M., 2oth May [1779] 

" This writing an hour after the post is gone out seems odd, 
but if I do not write when my eyes do not pain me, I shall have 
no power to write at all. It is one of my grievances, which I 
am afraid that time will not assist. I will consult an oculist 
when I return to England, but it is everybody's interest here to 
blind me. I am here 1'ennemi tout court, I am the only English 
person they see, and last night, when they were talking of their 
expeditions and hostilities they asked me if I would acquaint 
the Government of England with anything which I heard in 
their company. There was a ready answer to that. Our 
Government I hope wants no instructions from me, and I was 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 261 

not sent here as a spy. Indeed I am nothing less than sus- 
pected, and I pass my time at least as well among them, as in 
a profound peace. I have no news from England at all, which 
they attribute to consummate prudence in my correspondents, 
or in me. I can account for that otherwise, but do not account 
for it to them at all. I do not chose, in short to own here, 
what a very insignificant person I am. But there is a Mr 
M'Kintosh here who wants much to be acquainted with me and 
has so many important things to tell me, as, if I listened to 
them, would send me to the Bastile. But my door is forbid to 
him, and to everybody, but to Dr Gemm, and to Sr. J. Lambert. 
This M'Kintosh threatens to complain of me to the ministers in 
England that I won't interest myself in the concerns of my 
country, and give him admittance. Mr Colbrook has threatened 
me with an irreconcilable rupture because he is obliged to 
come to the door three times a day and cannot gett admittance. 
That he does not want to borrow money of me, but only de- 
sired that I would advance him 40 Louis for a draught upon 
Mr Woodhouse, who had a great deal of money to account to 
him for. I believe the account is clearer to Mr Woodhouse 
than to him. I have refused positively to see him, he tells me 
in his letter that he wants 40 Louis only for a respectable 
woman who loves him, and says such behaviour in a man of my 
sense, has astonished him more than anything which ever 
happened to him, that he has been respected, loved and 
countenanced as much as I have, except by a few north 
Britons, he means, I suppose, March and Lord Bute. Poor 
Roger, Tom Broderick's friend, complains that I won't see him, 
because I think that he has been in a plot with the Jesuites and 
the Secretary of State's office is full of information against him. 
A Swiss and two mastifs are hardly sufficient to lett me at 
peace. But je suis cloitre partout, Mie Mie, Mrs Webb and I, 
and my Doctor. Me 1'Abbesse commence a radoter mais elle 
est tres contente de moi, because I do not mean to take Mie 
Mie home le jour de la Pentecote. Mie Mie is the most tract- 
able little creature in the world. She gains herself and me 
reputation every day, for they see that she is not spoiled. She 
is going on with her reading, both in French and English, but 
her Anglomanie, her desire to return to England, and to go to 
Matson is prodigious, in that we are very much of a mind ; 
but I have no certainty as yet : ni j'ai a quoi m'en tenir. I 
must trouble Lord Middleton, if he will be so good as to give 
me leave ; It is to recommend my Irish Affairs to a Banker, 
and a good importunate hard-hearted attorney to worry Mr 
R d - Gore, and his rascally agent, for the payment of my annuity, 



262 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

there is half a year due, and almost another. 1 He wrote me a 
letter, before I left England to tell me that he should order the 
immediate payment of this half year due at Xmas last, so Mr 
Nesbit advanced the money. I drew upon him for it, and my 
Bills are returned protested. I have wrote to Mr Woodcock 
about it this morning, but I am thought out of reach, and 
am out of their mind, so my affairs will all go a 1'eau if I 
have to stay here, and yet I may be obliged to do that a 
great while for anything I can tell. J'ai donne & Mie Mie 
une promesse solemnelle de ne pas la laisser ici, c'est a 
dire de ne pas 1'abandonner ; for it would be that. She need 
not fear it. 

" Monsieur le Marquis de la Fayette talks to me much of 
Lord Cornwallis, and of the esteem which he has for him. 
I have promised through your means to make his compliments. 
I talked to him also of another young Hero, qui est attache 
au cher de 1'autre ; I beg my love to him. I am glad to hear 
that Mr Townshend continues well. When Warner calls upon 
you, which he says he does now and then, tell him what news 
you think fit to communicate. I was in hopes that your 
patriots had done with us ; but I find the Opposition to our 
measures continues. When does the Parliament rise? are 
there to be any new arrangements ? . . . I cannot tell you how 
near you are all to your destruction. But you deserve it ; and 
I could tell you why ! For I can talk politics if I will, although 
C. Fox and the Due de Croz say I know nothing of the matter. 
To be sure the Due's head and Charles's conduct together, 
is en dessus de ma porte, but I have a little code of my own, 
however, which I keep a secret. Charles, I mean my nephew, 
has forsaken me ; my love to him, I beg, and to the whole 
family in Cleveland Court. I would send my compliments 
to Lady Cornwallis, and to Mrs Cooper but I recollect that you 
will be at Frognal so I will then beg you to make them for me 
to Mrs Beesen, to Miss Beesen, and to Mr Wollaston. I have 
done thinking of a country house near London, while my 
foreign negotiations go on, and till I can force people to pay 
the shot they owe me, which no-one will do, if they can help it. 
I must retire to the sabine farm, and be as frugally blessed 
there, as any of my ancestors. I can really reconcile myself at 
present to no other sort of life ; and my succession of suppers 
here are [worse] to me than the vue de le plus affreux would 
be. While I have Mie Mie with me I do very well. Her 
accounts of Me. PAbbesse, des Religieuses, des pensionnaires, 
and of all is very entertaining. They are all very fond of her 

1 See Chapter XV. 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 263 

The Abbesse carries her with her to all the offices of the Church, 
and her account of them too is fort edifiante. 

" Your essays on various subjects I have given to the Due de 
Chartres's AbW to be translated into French. He admires 
them much. I cannot read so easily as I can write ; I am only 
afraid that that may be your case in regard to my letters. I 
know it is a most terrible griffonage and perhaps they may 
think at the post-office here that I write in cypher." 

"Monday, May 24 [1779] 

" I received yours with the account of poor Mrs Cooper's 
death yesterday. I will answer by the next post. I am glad 
to hear that Mr Wollaston is still living. Me. de Sevigne says 
truly : les vielles Lettres radotent. I should not have wrote 
what I have if I had not received yours first, but I cannot 
revise it. My Love to the family. Pray recommend the case 
of my banker to Lord Middleton with my kind compliments to 
him and to Lady M. Mere et Bru." 

"Sunday M., joth May [1779] 

" I have already in part anticipated my answer to your last 
letter, and in part acknowledged the receipt of it. I have only 
in this to thank you for your consideration of Mie Mie and my- 
self. She is in her Convent, and contented there, upon the terms I 
have obtained for her, which have as much reason in them as 
gratification to myself. As Mrs W[ebb] cannot go into the 
Convent so Mie Mie is permitted to come to us three days in 
the week on which days she reads, dances and perfects herself 
in her English with us. The other days she reads and talks 
French and writes. They are all very fond of her, and more sur- 
prised at her. She has infinitely more reason and information 
than are usual dans 1'enceinte de ces murailles. She sings them 
Italian songs and diverts them. She says that I lett her do 
anything. But that Mrs W. controlls her in every thing, which 
is exactly true, and as I intended it. To act a part which you 
are not fitt for you will act ill and be of no use. So I give it 
quite over to Mrs W. I never interfere in the least thing. 
The child is the most tractable in the world, there is not the 
least trouble with her, either in the Convent or in my house. 
Dr Gemm who is physician there, as well as with me, is of 
infinite use to me, but he can only help things here, he can do 
nothing towards conducting this machine any further. Mme. 
F.'s caprice, ill humour and deceit are the torments of my life. 



264 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

She contrives even at the distance of 300 leagues to disgust 
me. For lett me do what I will, I know that she will never be 
satisfied, but I will not come to any with her, if I can help it. 
Wether M. le Marquis is in Lyons in the hands of his surgeon 
or returned to Milan, it is impossible to guess. I have had a 
letter from Lyons, but the post mark is Turin. I had much 
flattered myself, and poor Mie Mie too that I should pass this 
summer with her in England at my house, but I see no likely 
hood of it. I will do nothing to please myself, which may be 
felt in its consequences by the child, and so I must content 
myself with the environs of Paris. Me. la Mar^chale de 
Luxembourg, whose house is at the distance of Eltham, Mont- 
morency, has invited me, and Me. du Deffands goes there to 
supper and returns about two or three in the morning, and I 
have an engagement to the Pss. to Beauvenir and Me. du 
Deffands goes with me. The R. family go to Compiegne and 
the military may be to Frognal. 1 What is to become of poor 
Miss Lucy Townshend?" 

It is clear from other evidence that " Madame F.'s caprice" 
during these months was causing Selwyn great unhappiness. 
" He neither sleeps nor eats," wrote Madame du Deffand to 
Walpole, " he will fall ill, or go astray in the mind. I really 
think this, and I am very sorry for him. ... I shall offer to do 
what I can for him, give him news of her [Mie Mie] to send 
Wiart or my nephew to Panthemont to see her ; but I can't 
promise to visit her myself, I don't like children." Selwyn's 
torments were ended in June, however, by receiving permission 
from the Fagnanis to bring Mie Mie to England. As soon as 
the letter from Italy arrived, " without losing an instant," wrote 
Mme. du Deffand, " he hastened to me and asked me to obtain 
a passport for him. It came on Tuesday morning [i5th June] 
and the same evening he was to sleep at Chantilly." One 
may notice here that Selwyn had little sympathy from Madame 
on the subject of Mie Mie. That lady " did not like " children, 
and privately thought " Lindor " a great fool. " However," she 
admitted graciously to Walpole, " he loves ; and although it is 

1 " I have no objection to the royal family being toujours qui at Com- 
piegne," wrote Miss Townshead in reply ; " but I will excuse the military 
from visiting us at Frognal. However, the appearance of the Middlesex 
militia company in Foot's Cray at a tallow chandler's shop . . . has cured 
me of all fears of the Mounseers,"- Jesse, vol. iv. 182. 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 265 

only a doll, that is better than having an empty soul." Madame 
was a good judge of empty souls. 

Selwyn, after all these excursions and alarms, brought Mie 
Mie to Matson early in July. His troubles with reference to 
the young lady were nearly over. Thenceforward until his 
death he never parted from her, although he had periodical 
panics on the subject ; that dreadful " Madame F." haunted 
him in his dreams. 

For nearly twelve years Mie Mie lived under George 
Selwyn's care, at Matson, in London, at Richmond. We get 
many glimpses of her in the Carlisle correspondence, and in 
other letters from and to Selwyn. 

[To MARY TOWNSHEND] 

"TuNBRiDGE WELLS 
"Friday, 14 July [1780] 

" I am much obliged to you for your letter, as well as Mie 
Mie who is so kindly made the chief subject of it. I am in 
hopes that the worst part of the worst disorder is over, and that 
her cough will now grow less violent, and less painfull to her 
every day. I have been assured that there was no appearance 
of its having any bad consequences, and I am disposed to hope, 
that by the efforts made to discharge the Bile, her constitution 
may be mended. As to my own case, I can only say, that it 
is like everything which ever happened to me, very extraordinary, 
to have the hooping cough, which I have tres decidement at 61. 
Seems as now, as if I had been seized with the Gum fever, and 
the Rickets, or was cutting my teeth for the third time. I shall 
not despair of appearing next winter with a Coral and an 
Anodyne Necklace. It is a most horrible disorder. I lose my 
senses with it some times for a minute, and dropt this morning 
in the Child's Room, which frightened her excessively, but what 
diverts me is their calling it a bastard hooping cough. To 
judge of it by its effects, Je pourrais repondre de sa Legitimite. 
Mie Mie, as the people who are about her tell me, has not had 
it so violent as other children generally have. We are here 
more for the air than anything else, and therefore might as well 
be where we should pay no Rent as hire a Band Box at eight 
guineas a week. I think, that when our Lease is expired which 
will be in less than three weeks, we shall change the air again. 
The little Pony is our chief resource and amusement. His 
Honour and family are come down, but ma Societe est si con- 
tagieuse que Ton ne veut pas celui avec moi en conversation, as 



266 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

yet, all the Houses here engaged, because it is to be a place of 
great resort, but there is no prospect of it at present I have 
not been once at the rooms, and but once at the Camp. Jones 
does very well, and I dare say will answer all my expectations. 
I shall answer hers, unless she expects more from me than from 
those who are the model upon which I found my domestic 
economy. I have told her that I desire to refuse my family no 
indulgence which they would have in a reasonable family, and 
that as much as my circumstances would allow it, and in pro- 
portion to the number, I should wish it regulated in point of 
expense and management, by what she saw in yours. Pierre 
who has rather more enlarged notions of expense, does not seem 
to think I chose a bad model. I saw once wrote up in my Lord 
Mayor's kitchen, upon one door Waste not, on another Spare 
not, and these two adages I would adopt. The Cook which was 
so much commended by Mr Woodly left me, just as I was set- 
ting out for this place. She was returned by the Report of the 
family six months gone with child, and a thief, voila tout, so 
there is still one part of my administration to fill up. I ask 
Lady Middleton's pardon for my recollections, but I can no 
more help those records than the old woman at Bealy. I do 
assure you, that upon my own account, I am not sorry, that it 
is now forty-nine years since a certain lady who is to be soon a 
Grandmother was lieing across my knees with a red face and in 
a red mantle, and about as long as the pen which I have in my 
hand. I beg my love to her and to all the family. I propose 
to go to Matson in about a month, and perhaps shall meet 
your Brothers at Luggershall in about six weeks after that. 
This is all which I know of my motions. I do not, from what I 
heard you say of yours hope to see you till the beginning of 
November, but I shall be happy, in the meantime to hear often 
from you. Mie Mie is extremely sensible of your kind concern 
for her, as well as myself, who am dear Mary, ever most truly, 
and ever affectionately yours." 

" It never occurred to me," wrote Miss Townshend in reply, 1 
" that you were in danger of catching the hooping-cough, any 
more than the other disorders you mention. Growing interested 
in enumerating the ills we escape by advancing in life, I have 
reckoned proneness to take infection one, and that the hooping- 
cough, once over, never returned, but I find I am out in this 
calculation, as I have been in many others." 

In the following year Selwyn tells Carlisle that he is " much 
1 Jesse, iv. 353. 



A JOURNEY TO MILAN 267 

too happy," with Mie Mie, " but not one word comes to me from 

her Italian parents, and the silence is terrible to me, because it 

is so unnatural. Could I have assurance that it proceeded from 

a total abandoning her to my care, I should be happy, but that 

seems incredible, and so I live in a constant dread of some 

change in that in which now all my happiness is placed." 

Brighter days come. He takes Mie Mie to see her first play. 

"It was Dissipation, and Robinson Crusoe, the farce ; two such 

performances and such performers I never saw. It was twelve 

years since I had been to the playhouse." There is a New 

Year's party where young George Howard was King, Mie Mie 

Miss Hoyden, "and I," writes Selwyn, " Sir Tunbelly Clumsy. 

Miss Townshend dined with us and cut the cake, and they have 

been playing at whist, so that they are all as happy as possible." 

Everybody in the Selwyn circle was kind to Mie Mie. Dr John 

Warner, that faithful henchman, would address affectionate 

notes to his " sweet little queen," signed " your loving Snail." 

It was a great occasion when Mie Mie was presented at court. 

She was aged seventeen then, and was beginning to be called 

" Miss Fagnani." She was " very splendid," Anthony Storer 

informed Lord Auckland ; " but George was most magnificent 

and new in every article of dress." This was the occasion upon 

which a Great Personage was pleased to remark that he was 

surprised Selwyn did not wait to see the making of a new 

knight, " it was so like an execution." It must have been about 

this time that Romney painted Mie Mie's portrait, which shows 

her as a pretty girl of seventeen or eighteen, with dark hair and 

eyes. This is a charming picture, full of lightness and grace, 

and with that effect of having been blown upon the canvas, 

rather than painted, of which only Romney had the secret. 

Mie Mie was popular in the Regent's circle, which is more than 

can be said for Selwyn. One day she and Selwyn were sitting 

at dinner in Cleveland Court with the windows up, when, says 

Selwyn, " H.R.H. passed by in his chaise, and made a most 

gracious bow to Mie Mie, and if he could have been sure of my 

not being in the room it may be he would have stopped to have 

told how much he liked Castle Howard." That vivid little 

picture seems to bring both Selwyn and Mie Mie nearer to 

us, does it not? The summer afternoon in St James's, with 

Prince Florizel driving along in his chaise, and bowing as he 



268 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

passes to the foreign-looking girl who is dining by the open 
window. 

The later history of Mie Mie is hardly to be told here. Her 
first (and surely her best) romance ended with Selwyn's death 
in 1791. She was then twenty years of age, and perhaps un- 
spoiled by all the love that had been lavished upon her. It 
would seem better to leave her at that point, with all the 
fragrance of youth about her, and the recent memory of Selwyn's 
devotion. Others may relate her subsequent history in detail: 
it does not interest me ; and it hardly comes within the scope 
of this book. The bare facts of it are well known too ; many 
writers have seen to that. She became a great heiress at 
Selwyn's death (if ^"33,000 will justify the phrase) ; a greater 
heiress still at the death of "old Q." in 1810; married Lord 
Yarmouth, afterwards third Marquis of Hertford, in 1798 ; 
separated from him, and (it is said) travelled on the Continent 
with the Marshal Androche ; was possibly the mother of Sir 
Richard Wallace (he speaks of her, however, in an unpublished 
letter as " my dearest friend ") ; lived into our own time, and 
died in 1856. Her husband was the Marquis of Steyne Jn 
" Vanity Fair " that is an accepted tradition now ; and it is 
interesting to endeavour to trace in the character of the 
Marchioness of Steyne (a Catholic, and brought up at a Convent) 
some resemblance to Maria Fagnani. But is it not, on the 
whole, better to think of Selwyn's Mie Mie than of the 
Marchioness of Hertford, or of her prototype in the novel ? In 
her old age the Marchioness burnt all her private letters and 
family papers, resolved that none should know her history, so 
far as she could prevent it. The few pages of that history 
given here are of an earlier time, upon which she must often 
have looked back with longing and perhaps regret. 



CHAPTER XIII 

THE SECOND SELWYN CIRCLE 

THE history of George Selwyn's friendships would in it- 
self form a substantial volume. He knew everybody in 
his day who was worth knowing, and many people also 
who were not worth knowing. You can hardly take up a book 
of memoirs or a volume of letters of the Georgian period with- 
out rinding Selwyn's name mentioned, perhaps more than once, 
in its pages. This person has met him at dinner, and duly 
records a bon-mot ; that one has seen him at court ; a third has 
spoken with him at White's or Brooks's. This at least estab- 
lishes his position as a man of the world, with innumerable 
acquaintances. But on the inner circle of friendship his record 
is no less emphatic. Most men contrive to drift apart from the 
friends of their youth, and fail conspicuously to replace them 
with friends of middle age. The tragedy of this position is 
that men do not recognise it for what it is ; they are quite 
content with it, and look upon isolation as the norm of human 
life. Selwyn was made of different stuff. He kept the friends 
of his youth Lord March, Horace Walpole, Gilly Williams 
so far as death permitted, and he added to them, as the years 
went on, new friends of a younger generation. That fact, in 
relation to Selwyn's character, speaks for itself. 

What one has called the " Second Selwyn Circle " began to 
be formed about 1760. Selwyn was then a man of forty. He 
was well known at the clubs as a gossip and a wit : just the 
kind of man with whom young men fresh from the universities 
would wish to become acquainted. Accordingly we find that, 
between 1760 and 1770, Selwyn added considerably to his 
friends and correspondents. This second circle was an ample 
one, containing as it did men like Charles James Fox, Frederick, 
fifth Earl of Carlisle, Anthony Morris Storer, Richard Fitz- 
patrick, James Hare, and Frederick, Lord Bolingbroke. This 
list is not exhaustive. There were many outside it who called 
Selwyn " George," and who might fairly claim friendship with 
269 



him. But it is a representative list. Historically the most im- 
portant name upon it is, of course, Charles James Fox ; but 
to us it is not the most important name. Fox must give place 
for a moment to his young friend Carlisle, whose intimacy with 
Selwyn was much closer and more lasting than that of Fox. 
To Carlisle, George Selwyn was a father-confessor, a person of 
experience and worldly wisdom to whom at all times he could 
turn for counsel and advice. Selwyn, on his part, had a real 
affection for Carlisle and his family, not perhaps unmingled 
with the feeling that it was very pleasant to be father-confessor 
to a peer of the wealth and social standing of the Earl of 
Carlisle. But we must not be too censorious. The Selwyn- 
Carlisle friendship is an interesting thing. Selwyn wrote 
hundreds of letters to his young friend (invariably beginning 
" My dear Lord ") ; and his young friend reciprocated by 
writing not quite so many letters to Selwyn. Both series of 
letters do their writers in the good old eighteenth-century 
phrase " infinite credit." Further, Selwyn made Lord Carlisle 
one of his executors. Fortunately for us Carlisle omitted a 
very important executorial duty : the getting possession of the 
deceased's private letters and papers, perhaps because in this 
case they were hidden away at the Office of Woods. But for 
this happy omission we should not (inter alia) have those 
sprightly letters from Carlisle to Selwyn which have long 
adorned the collection of Mr Jesse. With their help we can 
easily trace the history of the most sincere of George Selwyn's 
later friendships. 

The letters begin in 1767, when Frederick Howard was only 
nineteen years of age. He had just left Cambridge, and was 
about to make the tour of Europe with his Eton friends Charles 
James Fox and Lord Fitzwilliam. It was probably Fox who 
introduced Carlisle to Selwyn ; we have no record, however, of 
their first meeting. Carlisle was a sentimental youth. At this 
time he was flirting with Lady Sarah Bunbury (who could help 
being fond of that charming woman ? ), and was consequently 
in no haste to scamper about Europe with Charles Fox. 
Lord Holland, Fox's father, crystallised the situation in a 
rendering of Horace's Ode " Lydia, die per omnes," which he 
addressed to Lady Sarah, and forwarded to George Selwyn for 
approval : 



THE SECOND SELWYN CIRCLE 271 

"Sally, Sally, don't deny 
But for God's sake tell me why 
You have flirted so, to spoil 
That once lively youth, Carlisle ? 

He used to mount when it was dark 

Now he lies in bed till noon ; 

And you not meeting in the Park 

Thinks that he got up too soon. 

Manly exercise and sport, 
Hunting and the tennis-court 
And riding school no more divert 
Newmarket does, for there you flirt ! 

But why does he no longer dream, 

Of yellow Tyber and its shore ; 

Of his friend Charles's favourite scheme 

On waking, think no more ? " 

Lady Sarah was quite pleased with Lord Holland's ode, 
but George Selwyn was decidedly the reverse. It was against 
his principles that a peer of ancient lineage should have his 
young affections referred to so flippantly, even by a brother 
peer : even by so old a friend as Lord Holland. To Selwyn a 
lord was a lord, whose most trifling flirtations were to be spoken 
of with respect. But Carlisle at length was able to tear himself 
away from Lady Sarah, or perhaps it was Lady Sarah who was 
torn away from him. At all events he writes to Selwyn from 
Brussels, in September (1767), confessing that he has been in 
love with an unmarried girl ; and what is worse, with a German 
princess. ..." Excuse all my follies, my dear George," writes 
the ingenuous youth ; " it is better having them at this age than 
twenty years hence." By November Carlisle had reached Paris, 
where he met Fox. From Paris the two young men travelled to 
Nice ; and from Nice Carlisle journeyed along the Riviera not 
then much resorted to by the English, though Smollett had just 
been advertising it in his " Travels " and by the Col di Tenda 
to Turin. After Turin he made the usual Italian tour Rome, 
Naples, Florence, Venice, and so home by way of Strasburg. 
Throughout his journey he faithfully reported progress to 
Selwyn in a voluminous correspondence, which has been praised 
by no less a man than Thackeray. Carlisle's letters certainly 



272 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

have merit ; they are natural and easy in style, and full of a 
sort of placid good nature : the unforced utterance of a gener- 
ous youth without any particular parts. His observations on 
scenery and on people are quite conventional ; but he says what 
he thinks, and says it very agreeably. During his absence the 
Order of the Thistle was conferred upon him, and the insignia 
of the order were sent to him at Turin, where he was invested 
by the King of Sardinia. This little matter of the "green 
ribband " gave both Carlisle and Selwyn considerable trouble. 
Carlisle wished that the ribband should be despatched from 
England by a proper courier, and also that the investment 
should be carried out with all the pomp and circumstance 
befitting so important an occasion. Selwyn gave the precious 
packet to Lord Clive, who was to bring it as far as Paris. A 
special courier, he explained, would cost too much. This news 
saddened young Carlisle. " By Lord Clive ! " he exclaims (in a 
letter to Selwyn). " It might as well be sent by a Chelsea 
pensioner. . . . The sending this Order by the first invalid 
who is going to Naples or who perhaps may die by the way 
and my ribband travel back to England with a hearse and 
undertakers will not raise very much the dignity of it in the 
eyes of the people here." The ingenuous youth of twenty 
considers himself insulted because his precious ribband is being 
fetched by the hand of Robert Clive ! He need not have 
excited himself. The " Chelsea pensioner " brought the order 
only so far as Paris ; thence to Turin it was more worthily 
borne by a messenger from the British Embassy. The curious 
thing is that Selwyn seemed to admit that there was some 
justice in Carlisle's criticism of Clive. " It was never intended," 
says he apologetically, "that this [Order] should have been 
entrusted to undertakers or Chelsea pensioners." Such was the 
England of 1768, when the man who won India for us had to 
be apologised for to a titled boy of twenty. But all was well 
that ended well. In a few weeks Carlisle was able proudly to 
announce that he was now " a Knight Companion of the Ancient 
Order of the Thistle. The ceremony was performed this morn- 
ing in the King's Cabinet; the Royal Family and all the principal 
officers of the Court being present." At Rome Carlisle has the 
usual creditable emotions. " The profusion of the finest marble," 
he says, " the glorious size of the palaces, the scattered remains 



THE SECOND SELWYN CIRCLE 273 

in every street of the finest ancient sculpture, the magnificence 
of the fountains and to consider these things but as the debris 
of Rome gives one feelings that are not to be felt but upon 
the spot": which was no doubt quite true. He visits the 
Coliseum by moonlight, and assures Selwyn that no idea which 
he could form of it " will be adequate to the grandeur that these 
remains of antiquity appeared in at that moment." In a word, 
with all respect to the critic who found in Carlisle's letters a 
similarity in style " to that of his near and illustrious relative, 
Lord Byron," these letters are perfectly conventional records of 
travel. But fifty years afterwards the " illustrious relative " also 
journeyed in Italy and made full amends in poetry for his 
cousin's deficiencies in prose. One note of interest may be 
made upon these travel-letters of Carlisle's. The word " bore," 
in its modern colloquial sense of " fatigue," had just then been 
introduced into the English language, or at least into the tongue 
spoken in Mayfair ; and Carlisle uses it freely in his correspond- 
ence, always underlined, and with a certain proud consciousness 
that he was applying correctly the latest society catch-word. 
Selwyn also uses the word occasionally, but spells it, un- 
ashamedly, " boar." 

The friendship between these two men grew more intimate 
as the years went on. Carlisle married at the early age of 
twenty-two ; but his marriage made no difference in his relations 
with George Selwyn, who was always a welcome visitor at 
Castle Howard. If Carlisle were in the country and Selwyn 
in town, no day would pass without a long letter from Selwyn, 
containing the latest social and political gossip ; balls, routs, 
parties ; debates in Parliament ; ministerial changes ; society 
scandals ; all the tittle-tattle of St James's Street. Carlisle's 
letters to Selwyn were rather in the nature of requests for 
advice and counsel, in circumstances both ordinary and extra- 
ordinary : whether it would be better to come to town or 
remain in the country ; the best method of saving money ; 
information concerning gambling losses, and philosophical 
reflections upon the same. The correspondence ripples on, 
with its youthful self-revelation, its easy confidence, and placid 
good humour. At times the reader is inclined to regard 
Carlisle as just an ordinary young fool ; at other times sound 
good sense peeps through the written word, and a certain 



274 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

fineness of temper. "Reading without books of reference," 
he says once, " is like looking out of a prison window ; you just 
see the prospect and taste the air, enough to make you feel 
more sensibly your confinement." That is true when you 
remember that what Carlisle meant by "books of reference" 
was " one's own books to refer to," and it is well said. The 
fineness of temper appears in such a passage as this : " It is 
now a good many years since our friendship began, and I am 
certain that no one ever experienced so many real essential 
proofs of kindness as I have done from you ; I love to think 
of it, and love to acknowledge it." But at other times Carlisle 
most emphatically plays the fool. Thus in 1776, when already 
in debt, and struggling hard to adjust his income to his ex- 
penditure, he gambles away .10,000 in one evening, and writes 
this letter to Selwyn : " I have undone myself, and it is to no 
purpose to conceal from you my abominable madness and folly, 
though perhaps the particulars may not be known to the rest 
of the world. I never lost so much in nine times as I have done 
to-night, and am in debt to the house for the whole. You may 
be sure I do not tell you this with an idea that you can be of 
the- least assistance to me: it is a great deal more than your 
abilities are equal to. Let me see you, though I shall be 
ashamed to look at you after your goodness to me." Carlisle 
was writing to a man who had himself lost heavily at play many 
times : what man of that period had not done so ? But in 
Carlisle's letters one seems to discern a tendency to dissipation, 
not for dissipation's sake, not because the young man liked it, 
but because the other fellows did it. And after the dissipation 
is over the money lost, the bills of honour due the loser finds 
it difficult to conceal his complacency, as of one who has at all 
events done the right thing. In this, however, Carlisle was 
hardly more idiotic than other men of his age and class. One 
must also add that Lord Carlisle proved the stuff he was made 
of by giving up the gaming-table before he was thirty and 
settling down to a life of public usefulness and honour. 

We need not trace the history of the Selwyn-Carlisle friend- 
ship through the interminable correspondence of twenty years. 
Let it stand on record that Selwyn was adviser-in-chief to the 
Earl ; a sort of elder brother to the Countess ; and a benevolent 
uncle to the children of the house. These relations lasted 



THE SECOND SELWYN CIRCLE 275 

unchanged until Selwyn's death in 1791. Carlisle filled a good 
many positions under Government positions which, for the 
most part, are generally given to men of mediocre abilities 
whom the Government do not wish to offend by neglect. Thus 
he was Treasurer of the Household in 1777, a Lord of Trade 
and Plantations in 1719, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1780 
(an office which he filled with considerable success), Lord 
Steward of the Household and Lord Privy Seal in 1783. His 
most important appointment, however, was that of principal 
member of the commission which went to America in 1778 to 
reason with the rebels ; an unfortunate and ludicrous commis- 
sion, from which posterity finds it difficult to withhold its 
laughter. No circumstance connected with this commission 
was as it should have been. It started years too late ; its 
orders were not explicit ; policies were adopted and changed 
behind its back ; its members seem never to have grasped the 
desperate nature of the position in America. From beginning 
to end the embassy was a failure. But Lord Carlisle appears 
to have acted all through with dignity and courage. It was 
he who drew up the " last dying speech and confession " of 
the commission before leaving America, in which the com- 
missioners sternly intimated that the limits of human en- 
durance had been reached, and that henceforth no mercy 
would be shown to the rebels. Having posted this proclama- 
tion, Lord Carlisle and his friends rather hurriedly sailed away 
to England, perhaps to escape the annoying laughter of the 
rebels. 

We have here nothing to do with Carlisle's connection with 
Lord Byron, yet it is that episode, or series of episodes, which 
invests the Earl with a certain permanent literary interest. 
Perhaps this is a cruel thing to say, for Carlisle himself wrote 
poetry, which he fondly imagined the world would not willingly 
allow to perish. He began in his schoolboy days, when he 
celebrated his schoolfellows Charles James Fox and others 
in stirring verse : 

" How will my Fox alone by strength of parts 
Shake the loud Senate, animate the hearts 
Of fearful Statesmen ! While around you stand 
Both peers and commons listening your command ! " 



276 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

Accurate prophecy this, whatever we may think of the 
poetry. Carlisle, however, could write better verse than that. 
His " Ode on the Death of Gray " is imitative, and of the dead 
poet, but not unpleasing : 

" The listening Dryad, with attention still 

On tiptoe oft would near the poet steal ; 
To hear him sing upon the lonely hill, 

Of all the wonders of the expanded vale ; 
The distant hamlet, and the winding stream, 

The steeple shaded by the friendly yew ; 
Sunk in the wood the sun's departing gleam, 

The grey-robed landscape stealing from the view." 

There is a suggestion of Matthew Arnold in these lines, 
written sixty years before Arnold was born. Carlisle was, 
indeed, better at this kind of verse than at the melodramatic 
tragical vein which he attempted subsequently. His tragedies, 
The Fathers Revenge, and The Stepmother, " have a great deal of 
merit," as Horace Walpole said, " perhaps more than your Lord- 
ship [Strafford] would expect." This is exactly right. Carlisle's 
tragedies have more merit "than you would expect." They 
are full of the kind of writing which was both in the eighteenth 
century and in the nineteenth, and which is now, in the twentieth 
century, so generally mistaken for poetry : the easy, vowelled 
line ; the conventional thought ; the flux of sonorous words. 
Yet we should be gentle with Carlisle, if only because the Great 
Cham of Literature himself praised him. Readers of Boswell 
remember how Johnson's opinion on Carlisle's tragedy was 
extracted by Mrs Chapone. " Of the sentiments," wrote 
Johnson, " I remember not one that I wished omitted . . . with 
the characters, either as conceived or presented, 1 I have no 
fault to find. . . . The catastrophe is affecting." With such 
non-committal phrases did the doctor discharge the task that 
was imposed upon him : a task which he " could not decently 
refuse." Again should we be gentle with Carlisle, because, 
though he was not a poet, he was a peer, and the British 
nation always accords a certain respectful sympathy to a peer's 

1 This is the reading in the Hist. MSS. Report, printed from the 
original. Boswell printed " preserved," which is obviously wrong. 



THE SECOND SELWYN CIRCLE 277 

incursions into literature. The British critic, too, has a canon 
for peer-poetry different from the ordinary canon for commoners; 
both critic and public arguing (and with some force), that 
after all, the peer might be engaged in other and worse 
pursuits. Besides, you cannot help liking this young Lord 
Carlisle, whose impulses were all towards good and comely 
things, but whom fate threw into the midst of a set of people 
as frivolous and as unmoral as any you read of in history. 

Carlisle has already been castigated sufficiently for his 
literary follies by a peer-poet who has no need of our sympathy 
or our tolerance : Lord Byron. Carlisle was Byron's kinsman 
and guardian ; and during the early years of his guardianship 
appears to have acted not unkindly towards his young relative. 
But Byron had a mother, and this mother proved too much 
for Carlisle's patience. He withdrew from his active duties 
as guardian, and seems also to have transferred some of his 
dislike from the mother to the child. When Byron published 
his " Hours of Idleness " he dedicated it to Carlisle, sent him 
a copy, and received in reply a " tolerably handsome letter." 
This reply, however, must have been more tolerable than 
handsome, for Byron adds : " If he is the least insolent I shall 
enrol him with Butler and the other worthies. . . . He said 
he had not time to read the contents, but thought it necessary 
to acknowledge the receipt of the volume immediately. 
Perhaps the Earl ' bears no brother near the throne/ if so, 
I will make his sceptre totter in his hands" Brave talk this 
for a youth of nineteen. Unfortunately the youth meant, and 
was quite capable of doing, what he said. Was Carlisle jealous 
of Byron ? It is not at all improbable. Poets are a jealous 
race ; and when a poet of sixty, whose work has been much 
admired by society, and praised by the greatest of all critics, 
finds that a young relative of nineteen has also been perpetrat- 
ing poetry, he may be forgiven if he feel certain jealous 
pangs. But the relations between the two men were not 
strained to breaking point at that time, for two years afterwards 
Byron inserted in his " English Bards and Scotch Reviewers " 
an elegant compliment to his guardian : 

" On one alone Apollo deigns to smile 
And crowns a new Roscommon in Carlisle." 



278 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

So ran the manuscript. But unfortunately, before the manuscript 
was printed, Byron found a serious matter for quarrel with his 
guardian. The young poet had come of age, and wished to take 
his seat in the House of Lords. He wrote and asked Lord 
Carlisle to introduce him. In reply he received a cold and 
formal letter, " acquainting him with the technical mode of 
proceeding on such occasions," but making no effort to intro- 
duce him personally to the House of Lords. Byron was deeply 
offended, and he was a very ill man to offend. He rushed to 
his manuscript, deleted the " Roscommon " compliment, and 
inserted in its place the following stinging invective : 

" No Muse will cheer with renovating smile, 
The paralytic puling of Carlisle. 
The puny schoolboy and his early lay 
Men pardon, if his follies pass away ; 
But who forgives the senior's ceaseless verse 
Whose hairs grow hoary as his rhymes grow worse? 
What heterogeneous honours deck the peer ? 
Lord, rhymester, petit-maitre, pamphleteer ! " 

Such was Byron's revenge. His provocation was great. It is 
difficult indeed to excuse Carlisle's conduct upon this occasion. 
A word from him would have saved Byron from much suffering, 
and he did not speak that word. Alone, unhappy, highly sen- 
sitive, the young poet was compelled to make his first appearance 
in the House of Lords without, as Mr Thomas Moore said, " a 
single individual of his own class either to take him by the hand 
as friend or acknowledge him as acquaintance." What Carlisle 
thought of his punishment we do not know. It was no light 
punishment : " paralytic puling " was, as criticism, absolutely 
deadly. But it is pleasant to think that Byron in after years 
considered that he might have been a little unjust to Carlisle, 
and with his generous nature made an honourable amends in 
" Childe Harold," where he praised the "gallant young Howard," 
Lord Carlisle's youngest son, who fell at Waterloo : 

"Yet one I would select from that proud throng, 
Partly because they blend me with his line, 
And partly that I did his sire some wrong" 



THE SECOND SELWYN CIRCLE 279 

So much, then, for George Selwyn's friend, the fifth Earl of 
Carlisle. Let us think of him as he was when Selwyn knew 
him : a generous, open-hearted youth ; a firm friend ; impulsive 
and foolish at times, but never wicked ; pathetically anxious to 
do his duty in his high station as well as he knew how. " Forced 
into luxury," says Thackeray in " The Four Georges," " and 
obliged to be a great lord and a great idler, he yielded to some 
temptations, and paid for them a bitter penalty of manly remorse ; 
from some others he fled wisely, and ended by conquering them 
nobly. But he always had the good wife and children in his 
mind and they saved him. ' I am very glad you did not come 
to me the morning I left London,' he writes to George Selwyn, 
as he is embarking for America. ' I can only say I never knew 
till that moment of parting what grief was ! ' There is no 
parting now, where they are." And is not the remainder of 
Thackeray's tribute applicable at the present day ? " The faith- 
ful wife, the kind generous gentleman, have left a noble race 
behind them, an inheritor of his name and titles, who is beloved 
as widely as he is known ; a man most kind, accomplished, 
gentle, friendly and pure ; and female descendants occupying 
high stations and embellishing great names ; some renowned 
for beauty, and all for spotless lives, and pious matronly 
virtues." 

After Lord Carlisle we must speak of Charles James Fox. 
Nobody, however, can either speak or write about Fox in 
an entirely unbiassed frame of mind. He is one of those men 
whom you must either hate or love ; you cannot feel tepidly 
about him. You must be a Foxite or nothing ; and if you are 
a Foxite, hardly any praise of your idol will seem extravagant. 
Now George Selwyn was for long an intimate friend of Fox, 
despite the great difference of thirty years in their ages. But 
the curious thing about Selwyn in his relation to Fox was 
that he began by being a Foxite, and ended by being an anti- 
Foxite. This was so strange an evolution that one doubts 
whether Selwyn was ever a genuine Foxite ; he must, one 
imagines, have joined the brotherhood on false pretences ; and 
indeed it is questionable whether Selwyn, with all his capacity 
for friendship, had sufficient breadth of nature really to ap- 
preciate Charles Fox. It may of course be pointed out that 



Burke himself turned against Fox (who can ever forget that 
tremendous " Yes, yes ! There is a loss of friendship ! ") : to 
which the Foxite can only reply, " the less Burke he." Selwyn's 
apostasy from Fox, however, was a much slower and more 
deliberate process than Burke's. We have been speaking of 
Lord Carlisle, and it is interesting to remember that the rift in 
Selwyn's friendship with Fox began through Selwyn's zeal for 
the welfare of that nobleman. Fox had lost money heavily at 
cards ; he had induced Carlisle to join him in a bond of 
indemnity for the amount ; and afterwards, Fox-like, he had 
treated the whole matter in an airy, irresponsible way much 
too airy and irresponsible, Selwyn thought jealously. This was 
the beginning of it. Then Fox, still airy and irresponsible, 
took up the pernicious principles of the Opposition, nay, 
himself became the head and the front of the Opposition. 
This was too much for George Selwyn, the King's friend. But 
we must look a little more closely into the story of Fox's 
relations with Selwyn. 

George Selwyn was an old friend of the Holland family. 
With Henry Fox, the first Lord Holland, he kept up for many 
years a considerable correspondence. Opinions have always 
differed, and differed very acutely, concerning Henry Fox's 
character ; but his letters to George Selwyn show him to have 
been at least a man of affectionate nature, kind to his friends, 
sensitive to criticism, even to the point of morbidness. He 
was neither a very happy nor a very successful man, and he 
ought to have been both happy and successful. He married a 
charming woman, Lady Caroline Lennox, who was a good wife 
to him, and whom he loved intensely. He had great gifts and 
splendid opportunities. He filled high offices in the State. 
He helped to make and to unmake ministries. Yet, at the 
end of it all, he was a disappointed man. Through all he said 
or wrote ran a curious vein of bitterness : the black humour of 
one who conceives that the world has not given him his due. 
But the world distrusted him : there was the root of the whole 
matter. The people trusted Pitt; they did not trust Fox. 
This man held a lucrative post that of Paymaster of the 
Forces for some years, and was considered to have enriched 
himself illegitimately at the expense of the State. " The public 
defaulter of unaccounted millions " : that fatal phrase pursued 



THE SECOND SELWYN CIRCLE 281 

him until his death. Was the world right, and did Henry Fox 
rob the country to build up his own private fortune ? Posterity 
can only answer that this was a case where the maxim securus 
judicat would seem to apply : the world cannot have been 
wholly wrong. We know that Henry Fox was fond, perhaps 
inordinately fond, of money, and had no very fine feeling as to 
how he made it. Further than this we need not go, particularly 
as Fox's conduct brought its own punishment with it. His 
letters to Selwyn are proof enough of that, apart from other 
evidence. " I cannot help sometimes asking myself, dear 
Selwyn, why I am in such disgrace with the King? Have 
I deserved it? I am now the only mark left of irrevocable 
displeasure, and I vow to God I cannot guess why." And 
again : " There is one question, which, I hope, will not be 
asked : ' Has life no sourness drawn so near its end ? ' Indeed 
it has ; yet I guard against it as much as possible," and the 
" sourness " was mitigated somewhat by the affection of many 
friends, Selwyn among them. " Adieu ! my dear Selwyn," he 
writes. " When I come, be for ever at Holland House. It will 
shew great good-nature, of which I have reason to think nobody 
has more." And again : " I have lost too many friendships, 
which I had spent my life in deserving, to fling away one that, 
without my having ever deserved it, is so sincere and valuable 
as yours." Say what you will about the Foxes, they had the 
rare secret of personal charm. 

George Selwyn, then, was " always at Holland House " ; he 
belonged to that pleasant Whiggish society, though he was 
not himself in any real sense a Whig ; and perhaps when 
Selwyn first visited Holland House that mansion was not so 
Whiggish as it afterwards became. He watched the early 
triumphs of Charles James Fox with almost as much pride as 
Lord Holland, mixed, perhaps, with some little jealousy and 
some cynicism. But long before Charles had begun to dazzle 
the House of Commons he had been on terms of close friend- 
ship with George Selwyn. His earliest letters to Selwyn are 
written from various places on the Continent, where he was 
travelling with his father and .with Lord Carlisle ; he was then 
only nineteen years of age. These letters are not character- 
istic Charles Fox was no letter-writer but they show that 
Selwyn's friendship with Lord Holland was continued with 



Lord Holland's son. " I have not yet been to Herculaneum," 
writes Fox. " I will certainly steal something from thence to 
send you, if I cannot come by it honestly. I will enquire 
about the false dice, and if I can possibly get them or one of 
them, I will certainly give it to you to make a present of to 
White's." A year or so later he is boasting to Madame du 
Deffand in Paris that he was "already under the tutelage of 
M. Selwyn." Soon afterwards he writes a long letter to Selwyn 
from Paris (he affected that city almost as much as Selwyn 
himself) explaining exactly what "une jolie figure" meant 
according to the best authorities. In the next year (1771) he 
tells Selwyn that he is reading Clarendon, "but scarcely get 
on faster than you did with your Charles the Fifth. I think 
the style bad, and that he has a good deal of the old woman 
in his way of thinking, but hates the opposition party so much 
that it gives one a kind of partiality for him." " This, " says 
a commentator, " is a very curious passage from the pen of 
Charles Fox ! " But it was not " very curious " on the part of 
the Charles Fox of 1771, who had not yet found his political 
salvation. In the previous year his speeches in support of 
Lord North's government must have rejoiced the heart of 
Selwyn. We know they did, because Selwyn wrote a " pane- 
gyric " upon Charles to Lord Holland at Nice : " so kind to me 
and Charles," said Holland. And in that very same year of 
1771, did not Charles please Selwyn immensely by his anti- 
popular attitude during the Onslow riots ? Colonel Onslow 
had moved in the House to commit the printers of certain 
parliamentary reports, and a mob from the city had marched 
to Westminster to protest. A newspaper of the day refers to 
"the indecent and most shocking behaviour of Mr Charles 
Fox " on this occasion. " This youth for about half an hour was 
leaning out of a coffee-house window in Palace Yard, shaking 
his fist at the people, and provoking them by all the reproach- 

*irds and menacing gestures that he could invent. George 

But the j u u- j u- u- 

x stood behind encouraging him and clapping him on 

~, . '', as if he was a dirty ruffian going to fight in the 

This man . . ? 

P f Fox, however, was not to retain for much longer 

,. ... .>proval of his political conduct. 

c ras Fox's private conduct which offended George 

defaulter of u, c . . ~ , ., , f ,, 

he first instance. Towards the end of the year 



THE SECOND SELWYN CIRCLE 283 

1773, Fox had lost heavily at cards (nothing new for Charles 
Fox, even at that early age of twenty-four), and had induced 
his friend Lord Carlisle to join him in a bond for .14,000 as 
security for money raised. In this transaction Carlisle was 
of course the man of substance, and Fox the man of straw. 
Further, Carlisle appears not to have been indebted for any por- 
tion of this .14,000 ; it was money raised entirely for Fox's use, 
to pay his gambling debts. Shortly after the bond was executed, 
Fox received 50,000 from some quarter or other, and paid (or 
gambled) it all away again without regard to Carlisle's engage- 
ment on his behalf. It was these two transactions which first 
alienated from him the regard of George Selwyn. I think that 
Selwyn was a little over-virtuous in this matter. His letters 
to Carlisle, angry and bitter as they are, smack something 
of the Pharisee. What ! Had Selwyn never lost money at 
cards when he was young ? Did he know nothing of bonds and 
mortgages, and temporary " accommodations " ? Of course he 
did. It may be that Charles Fox was too careless of his friend 
Carlisle's own difficulties, that he took advantage of his good 
nature, and laid a heavy obligation upon him with a light heart. 
Or again it may be that much of this carelessness and lightness 
was assumed, and that Fox was just as concerned as Selwyn 
that Carlisle should come out of the transaction scathless. But 
Selwyn had no mercy upon Fox, or upon his family. In a 
score of letters to Carlisle he waxes sarcastic at Charles's 
expense, and at the expense of all his relatives. Lord Holland 
was ill, dying, as it happened ; but Selwyn can write : " Till he 
was in his shroud, I would write either to him or to Lady 
Holland, representing the state to which the confidence you 
have placed in their son has reduced you. ... I am apt to 
think that he will comprehend what you say very well. It is not 
my judgment only, but I have heard it said, that a great deal 
of his inattention upon this occasion has been affected, and 
that if the same money was to be received and not to be paid, 
our faculties would then improve." Selwyn called this " think- 
ing aloud." They were not kind thoughts to have of a man 
who was practically upon his deathbed (he died a few months 
afterwards), and who was never anything but kind to Selwyn. 
Carlisle took Selwyn's advice and wrote to Lady Holland, 
politely urging his claim to indemnity on the bond which he 



284 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

had given to Charles. At the end of the story it seems that 
Carlisle escaped from this entanglement without loss. " It 
appears to me," wrote Selwyn to him, " that you may finally be 
no loser by the transaction." This was no doubt largely due 
to Selwyn's strenuous exertions on his behalf. But we may be 
quite sure that neither Charles Fox nor his family intended to 
leave Carlisle in the lurch, though we may also be quite sure 
that Charles's " intentions " were not always or necessarily 
worth much in the money market. Yet in this matter of the 
bond Selwyn was, in zeal for his young friend, more royalist 
than the king. Carlisle never once spoke bitterly of Charles 
Fox throughout the whole transaction, nor did it in the least 
impair the friendship between the two men. On the contrary, 
Carlisle remained a Foxite to the end of his days. He was of 
Charles's faction ; watched with pleasure the rise of that young 
statesman ; took office under him during the ill-fated coalition ; 
and was excluded from office with him for all those arid years 
of William Pitt's supremacy in English politics. 

Far otherwise was it with George Selwyn. The " bond " 
incident was with him the parting of ways : it marked the 
beginning of his defection from Charles Fox. It is, however, 
with many qualms of conscience that he ruptures this old 
friendship. " I am free to own," he writes to Carlisle, " that in 
speaking to you of Charles who was perhaps your first and 
warmest friend, who, I believe, now loves you, that is, as he 
loves Lord and Lady Holland, a sa fagon, that I suffer a great 
deal of perplexity. I have lived, notwithstanding the disparity 
of our years, in great friendship and intimacy with him. His 
behaviour to me has always been kind and obliging. I have 
professed a regard to him, and have had it." " I am naturally 
disposed to love him," he says elsewhere. But henceforward 
George Selwyn dissembled his love for Charles very successfully. 
In that long series of letters to Lord Carlisle, beginning in 1773 
and ending in 1790, we have many, many glimpses of Charles 
James Fox ; we have, indeed, a perfect portrait of him as he 
appeared to a former friend, who was opposed to him in politics, 
who had a kind of freakish jealousy of him, but who found it 
extremely difficult to withstand Fox's almost irresistible charm. 
Let us note some of these pen-and-ink sketches of Fox by 
Selwyn. " I saw Charles to-day," he writes, " in a new hat, 



THE SECOND SELWYN CIRCLE 285 

frock, waistcoat, shirt and stockings ; he was clean and smug as 
a gentleman, and upon perceiving my surprise, he told me that 
it was from the Pharo Bank. He then talked of the thousands 
it had lost, which I told him only proved its substance, and the 
advantage of the trade. He smiled and seemed perfectly satis- 
fied with that which he had taken up ; he was in such a sort of 
humour that I should have liked to have dined with him." 
That, however, was a frequent humour with Charles Fox. A 
little later the bailiffs arrive : " You must know that for these 
two days past all passengers in St James's Street have been 
amused with seeing two carts at Charles's door filling by the 
Jews, with his goods, clothes, books and pictures. . . . Such 
furniture I never saw. Betty and Jack Manners are perpetually 
in a survey of this operation, and Charles with all Brooks's on 
his behalf in the highest spirits." Why should Charles care ? 
He and Dick Fitzpatrick and James Hare are holding the 
Pharo bank at Brooks's, dealing by turns and winning 
thousands (40,000 Jack Manners says, but Jack exaggerates), 
while the Jews are kindly removing Charles's dirty furniture. 
" The Vestal fire is perpetually set up," says Storer, " and they, 
like Salamanders, owe their existence to and flourish in the 
flame." " This Pharo bank," Selwyn says virtuously, " is held 
in a manner which being so exposed to public view, bids 
defiance to all decency and police. The whole town as it 
passes views the dealer and the punters, by means of the 
candles, and the windows being levelled with the ground." 
Next time you pass down St James's Street, observe the red- 
brick building which is Brooks's club, redolent, as to its archi- 
tecture, of the eighteenth century and of the brothers Adam. 
Look at the windows " levelled with the ground," and imagine 
that you see within them Charles James Fox at the faro table. 
He sits there with his great black eyebrows, and his jolly round 
bibulous face, dealing out the cards with many a jest and many 
a loud guffaw. George Selwyn looks in from the pavement 
beside you, and shakes his head virtuously, as he crosses the 
street to White's, where he himself is running a faro bank, but 
not at the open window. Is he jealous of Charles's success, I 
wonder? Storer says that the Selwyn bank at White's is a 
failure. "It is hardly worth mentioning," says he. " He 
knows nothing about the game, does not even comprehend the 



286 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

terms, and if there was any other competition at White's he 
would soon be deposed from his throne, which his small 
abilities render him so unfit for." 

On another occasion Selwyn calls at Brooks's and hints to 
Charles that he has a " suit to prefer." " He guessed what it 
was, and begged that I would not just then speak to him about 
money, he was in the right. I meant to have dunned him for 
yours [Carlisle's]. What pleases me," Selwyn confessed, "is 
that I may say anything to him, and he takes nothing ill, and 
by that and some other things he does in a great measure dis- 
arm me, and I can never abuse him heartily, but when I don't 
see him for some time." It is indeed amusing to watch Selwyn's 
efforts to dislike and break away from Charles, and Charles's 
cunning recoveries. Fox is a "field preacher," a "desperate 
rantipole vagabond," and (after his accession to office) "the 
late Charles, now Mr Fox (for I think that the other name has 
begun to sound obsolete already even at Brooks's) ... I had 
no conversation with him [Selwyn continues] or probably shall 
the rest of my life. ... I cannot gainsay, unthink, or repent, 
of any one charge I ever brought against him." Of course 
not ; and Selwyn nurses his resentment against the Secretary 
of State for as long as possible. " Last night at supper with 
Charles, but not one syllable passed between us. ... No one 
admires more or thinks more justly of his abilities than I do ; 
no one could have loved him more if he had deserved it ; what 
his behaviour has been to the public, to his friends and to his 
family is notorious. Facts are too stubborn, and to these I 
appeal, and not to the testimonies of ignorant and profligate 
people. Hereafter, if you can reconcile yourself to him and to 
his behaviour towards you, I will forgive him, and although I 
desire to lay myself under no obligation to him, I will re- 
member only that he is the child of those whom I loved, with- 
out interest or any return." But Charles was invincible. 
Through all that difficult time, when he was flouting the King 
and his ministers, and bragging about the fine government he 
was on the point of constructing, Selwyn never entirely broke 
with him. He could not do it. " Charles, with all his insolence 
towards the King, is very good-humoured towards me." " I saw 
Charles last night," says Selwyn in another letter, "and by 
accident was alone with him ; he stretched out his hand to me 



THE SECOND SELWYN CIRCLE 287 

with great good humour." How like Charles Fox that was ! It 
is pleasant to think that in spite of Selwyn's peevishness, Fox 
insisted upon remaining friends with him to the end, so that 
long afterwards Selwyn was "still disposed to love" Charles, 
and to " mount the rostrum in his favour." 

Imagine an evening at White's, with George Selwyn sitting 
among the old fellows by the fire, grumbling at the insolence 
of the younger generation. Charles comes into the room, with 
Fitzpatrick, and Hare, and other patriots. He sees Selwyn at 
the fire, and whispers to Fitzpatrick that " old George " is there, 
and in a deuce of a humour. " But observe," says he, " how I 
shall bring him round." He goes up to Selwyn, slaps him on 
the back, insists on shaking hands with him. George resists at 
first, keeps his sour looks for a while, but thaws gradually under 
Charles's good humour. So they sit gossiping till midnight, 
and separate after an " infinitely agreeable " time, as Selwyn 
grudgingly admits next day to Carlisle. 

It would be easy to allow one's pen to stray at large among 
the members of White's and Brooks's who were also members 
of the second Selwyn circle : there are so many candidates for 
portraiture among the fine gentlemen of that time. There was 
Anthony Morris Storer, for example. Storer was at Eton with 
Carlisle and Charles Fox, and, like them, afterwards came under 
Selwyn's influence. There is something very attractive about 
Anthony Storer's character. He was a clever man, a critic of 
life and art, a lover of music, a Latinist, a politician. Mr Nichols 
(of " Literary Anecdotes " fame) considers that he " deserved, in 
a high degree, if anyone ever did since the days of Crichton, the 
epithet of Admirable. He was the best dancer, the best skater 
of his time, and beat all his competitors in gymnastic honours." 
But he was more than all this. He was the best of good 
fellows. He lived at Portugal Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields ; 
and to his rooms in that unfashionable locality came his friends, 
Carlisle, and Fox, and George Selwyn ; they came when they 
chose, and dined informally with their host, and were always 
sure of a welcome. Nichols remarks that " if at any time he 
was rude, insolent, or overbearing, some allowance ought to be 
made for a state of health highly bilious, which influenced the 
man at times, and gave a yellow tinge and a saturnine hue to 



his character." But there is nothing bilious about his letters to 
Lord Carlisle or to George Selwyn ; they are very good-natured 
letters, if not so brilliant as one might expect from the Admir- 
able Storer. Letters are revealing things. Thus if a man has 
a reputation for scholarship, for wit, for originality of mind or 
of character, a perusal of his correspondence of his intimate 
correspondence shall quickly show us whether that reputation 
be well or ill founded. No man can keep himself entirely out- 
side the letters which he writes to his friends. So it happens 
that the publication of such letters almost invariably brings 
their writer up for final judgment before the bar of the world's 
opinion. The letters of Anthony Storer, like those of a good 
many other people of his time, disappoint. He uses Latin tags 
freely, as most Georgian gentlemen did ; gossips conventionally 
enough about politics and society ; and has some acute remarks 
to make upon what appears to have been his real interest 
pictures as, for example, when he discusses with Selwyn 
whether a picture at Castle Howard of Thomas Howard, Duke 
of Norfolk, was painted by Holbein as an original, or as a 
copy. He is happiest, however, when he is giving Selwyn the 
tittle-tattle of Bath, which city Storer affected a great deal. 
" Mrs Miller gives her fancy-ball next Tuesday," he writes, 
" but I have made my excuses. Their next subject is upon 
Trifles and Triflers. If you have a mind nugis addere pondus, 
you may try your hand at an ode, and I do not doubt but that 
you will be crowned with myrtle for your performance." This, 
of course, was the famous Mrs Miller of Batheaston, the 
heroine of the bouts-rimts. " They hold a Parnassus-fair 
every Thursday," wrote Walpole, " give out rhymes and 
themes, and all the flux of quality at Bath contend for the 
prizes. A Roman vase, dressed with pink ribbons and myrtles, 
receives the poetry which is drawn out every festival ; six 
judges of these Olympic games retire and select the brightest 
composition, which the respective successful acknowledge, kneel 
to Mrs Calliope Miller, kiss her fair hand, and are crowned by 
it with myrtle, with I do not know what. . . . Yes, by my 
faith, there are bouts-rimes on a buttered muffin, made by her 
Grace the Duchess of Northumberland ; receipts to make them 
by Corydon the Venerable, alias George Pitt ; others very pretty 
by Lord Palmerston ; some by Lord Carlisle." Stout old Dr 



THE SECOND SELWYN CIRCLE 289 

Johnson had no patience with such tomfooleries. " Bouts-rimes" 
said he, " is a mere conceit, and an old conceit ; I wonder how 
people were persuaded to write in that manner for this lady ! " 
I named (says Boswell) a gentleman of his acquaintance who 
wrote for the vase . Johnson : " He was a blockhead for his 
pains ! " Boswell : " The Duchess of Northumberland wrote." 
Johnson : " Sir, the Duchess of Northumberland may do what 
she pleases ; nobody will say anything to a lady of her high 

rank ; but I should be apt to throw 's verses in his face." 

It is hardly probable that George Selwyn responded to Storer's 
invitation to contribute to the lady's vase : bouts-rimes were not 
in George's line. 

One could speak again, of James Hare, most vivacious and 
imperturbable of men, who kept Selwyn supplied with news 
during the latter's absence in Milan ; of " Dick " Fitzpatrick, 
Charles Fox's great friend, with whom George Selwyn played 
many a game at hazard ; of " Fish " Crawford, Madame du 
Deffand's admirer, whom we may call the butt of the Selwyn 
circle ; of Topham Beauclerk, perhaps the most attractive 
figure in the fashionable life of his time, who links Selwyn's 
circle to a circle far more important and distinguished : that 
of Dr Samuel Johnson. The pen of the politican, again, might 
linger upon the name of Mr Thomas Townshend (afterwards 
Lord Sydney), George Selwyn's nephew, generally called and 
immortalised by Goldsmith under the name of " Tommy " 
Townshend. Yet Tommy seems to me to have been a most 
desperately uninteresting person : an energetic, pushing, and en- 
tirely commonplace politician, who lived for place and power, 
and was never quite happy away from St Stephen's. But to 
treat adequately of these men would require a volume ; much 
indeed could be written about the society of St James's Street 
when George III. was king, about that astonishing crowd 
of rollicking gamesters who frequented Almack's and Brooks's 
and White's with Charles Fox as leader. George Selwyn, as 
we have seen, mixed with them, but was not quite of them. 
He was older than they, graver, more responsible ; he must 
often have been the death's head at the banquet. Selwyn the 
middle-aged seems out of place in St James's Street, which 
was then (whatever it be now) a place for young men. It is 
true that he lingered there until near the end : a peevish and 

T 



290 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

melancholy figure, it must be said. One finds him more at 
home farther west : at Q.'s house in Piccadilly ; or still farther, 
at Holland House, talking politics with Henry Fox, chatting 
with " dear Lady Mary," or pacing the terrace between Charles 
and his young friend Lord Carlisle. 



CHAPTER XIV 

CLUBS AND GAMING 

THE founding of Almack's in 1764 was an important 
event for George Selwyn and his friends. Almack 
was a Scotsman, whose real name is said to have been 
Macall. He kept for some time the Thatched House Tavern 
in St James's Street, whence he migrated to Pall Mall, where 
Almack's was first established. The club was founded almost 
solely for the purpose of gaming, and had twenty-seven original 
members, including the Duke of Roxburgh, the Duke of Port- 
land, Lord Strathmore, and Mr Crewe. George Selwyn was 
not an original member ; but he was elected in the same year, 
on the introduction of Mr Crewe, afterwards Lord Crewe. This 
was not Selwyn's first acquaintance, however, with Mr Almack, 
for in the previous year Lord March engaged to dine with 
him at " Old Almack's " : but this must have been at the 
Thatched House Tavern. Selwyn cannot have patronised the 
club much in 1764 : he was in Paris most of that year and the 
next. Gilly Williams reports to him : " The Dutchman (Hans 
Sloane Cadogan) is at the Almack House every night. You 
have no loss, as Quinze is everything, no Hazard." Later he 
writes : " There is now opened at Almack's, in three very 
elegant new built rooms, a ten-guinea subscription, for which 
you have a ball and supper once a week for twelve weeks. 
You may imagine by the sum, the company is chosen ; though, 
refined as it is, it will be scarce able to put old Soho [Mrs 
Cornelys', in Soho Square] out of countenance." These rooms, 
however, were in King Street, St James's ; the gambling club 
still continued in Pall Mall. At King Street both sexes were 
admitted members, the ladies nominating the gentlemen, and 
vice versa. "Our female Almack's flourishes beyond descrip- 
tion," writes Gilly Williams to Selwyn. " If you had such a 
thing at Paris, you would fill half a quire of flourished paper 
with the description of it. Almack's Scotch face, in a bag-wig, 
waiting at supper, would divert you, as would his lady in a 
291 



292 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

sack, making tea, and curtseying to the duchesses." But it was 
the Pall Mall institution which interested Selwyn. " The deep 
play is removed to Almack's," Rigby writes to him, "where 
you will certainly follow it." When Selwyn returned to 
England, he certainly did follow it, and spent a good deal of 
time at the club in Pall Mall. Almack's was a kind of rival to 
White's, and obtained many of its members from the Young 
Club. " The Macaronis have demolished Young White's," wrote 
Mary Townshend to George Selwyn early in 1765, "by admit- 
ting almost the whole Club, and are themselves in danger of being 
deserted in their turn by their members being chosen into the 
Old Club." The Old Club, indeed, was the only one for which 
a member of Almack's could stand. " Any member of this 
Society" said the rule, "who shall become a candidate for any 
other club (Old White's excepted) shall be ipso facto excluded 
and his name struck out of the book." The gaming rules at 
Almack's were very strict. " Every person playing at the new 
guinea table do keep fifty guineas before him " ; " every person 
playing at the twenty guinea table do not keep less than 
twenty guineas before him." Generally, indeed, there was as 
much as ; 10,000 in specie on the table. Almack's was not 
solely a gaming club : many eminent men who were not game- 
sters were members. But gaming was the chief interest ; the 
rooms were full of players upon any night of the London 
season. " The gamesters began by pulling off their embroidered 
clothes ; they put on frieze greatcoats, or turned their coats 
inside out for luck." Leather protectors were also worn, to 
save their lace ruffles, and high-crowned straw hats with broad 
brims. Each player had a stand beside him, to hold his tea, 
and a wooden bowl for his guineas. Yet even so great a man as 
Edward Gibbon found life at Almack's very good. " The style 
of living " says he, " though somewhat expensive, is exceedingly 
pleasant, and notwithstanding the rage of play, I have found 
more entertainment and rational society than in any other club 
to which I belong." But Gibbon, to be sure, liked to be con- 
sidered a man of the world. 

Miss Townshend mentions the Macaronis, who were an 
esoteric company of Almack's. George Selwyn was no 
Macaroni : he was not youthful enough for that. The 
Macaronis burst upon the town as early as 1764 ; but they 



CLUBS AND GAMING 293 

attained their zenith about eight years afterwards. These 
young gentlemen were distinguished by their immense and 
glorious extravagances of dress and fashion. They wore great 
chignons of artificial hair, with very small cocked hats ; carried 
enormous walking-sticks with long tassels ; and had their 
jackets, waistcoats, and breeches, cut close to the figure. 
Sometimes they varied the fashion : dressed their hair high, or 
blossomed out with enormous nosegays in their bosoms. The 
world likes audacity, and the splendid audacity of the Macaronis 
carried everything before it. For a year or two London lived 
& la Macaroni. The shops were full of Macaroni articles. In 
the streets were to be met clerical Macaronis, Macaroni M.P.'s, 
turf Macaronis, Macaroni artists, Macaroni actors, for aught 
one knows, Macaroni chairmen and Macaroni link-boys. But 
the Macaroni fashion soon died out. It was never, indeed, 
taken seriously by the more responsible members of the British 
public, or even by the more responsible members of Almack's. 

Almack's was soon taken over by one Brookes, a wine 
merchant and moneylender, who moved the club in 1778 to St 
James's Street, where the brothers Adam built for him a fine 
new club house. The premises in Pall Mall, by the way, were 
occupied after this date by Goosetree's, Mr Pitt's favourite club. 
Brookes's did not prosper at first, despite its popularity ; and 
Brookes himself (a great scamp, if we are to believe Selwyn) 
retired from the club soon after it was built, and died poor in 
1782. Brooks's (to give it the modern spelling) began its new 
career with a brilliant list of members more brilliant perhaps 
than that of any other club in the whole history of clubs, The 
Club, of course, excepted. Burke, Fox, Gibbon, Reynolds, 
Garrick, and Hume : to equal that list you must have gone to 
the Turk's Head in Gerrard Street, where you would have 
found a company of men even more distinguished (if only 
because Samuel Johnson was among them) ; drawn together, 
too, not by love of hazard and faro, but by love of good talk, 
and literature, and the conflict of superior mind with superior 
mind. 

George Selwyn was a constant patron of Almack's before it 
finally merged into Brooks's. He frequently dined and wrote 
his letters there (he called it his " bureau ") and played at 
quinze, and faro, and hazard, much more than was good for him. 



294 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

" Quinze goes on vigorously at Almack's," he tells Carlisle in 
1768. "Lady S[arah Bunbury] says that you have fixed your 
coming of age as an tpoque for leaving off that and all kind of 
play whatsoever. My dear Lord vive hodie\ don't nurse any 
passion that gathers strength by time, and may be easier broke 
off at first." George was speaking out of the fulness of his own 
experience. "Lady S[arah] is in town," he says in another 
place, " and I suppose very happy with the thoughts of a Mas- 
carade which we are to have at Almack's next Monday seven- 
night, unless in the interim some violent opposition comes from 
the bishops." This, of course, was at the King Street Almack's. 
On another night he writes to Carlisle from " Almack's, in the 
Hazard Room alone, to write tout a mon aise." He passes two 
evenings with Charles Fox at supper there, "and never was 
anybody more agreeable and the more so for his having no 
pretensions to it." After 1778 Selwyn cultivated Brooks's for 
a few years with some regularity, though White's remained his 
favourite club. It is not quite clear why he did so, for the 
politics at Brooks's were not to his taste, and the play was 
rather high for a poor man. " I have quite relinquished nasty 
Brooks's, as Lady C[arlisle] calls it," he writes once. " I am with 
the sexaginary at White's, et de cette maniere je passe le 
terns assez tranquillement." But Selwyn soon came back again. 
The truth probably was that Brooks's was a "young" place, 
and very much alive, whereas White's at this time was, as 
Selwyn hinted, sexagenarian : " un asyle toujours pour les 
caducs, et pour ceux qui n'ont pas une passion dcid6e pour le 
jeu." " Brooks's " he says again, " is a precipice of perdition, 
upon which I have long stood : and now for fear that I should 
be abimt in it, I shall, I believe, strike my name immediately 
out of it." It was mostly at Brooks's that Selwyn met Fox, 
Fitzpatrick, and Hare : the celebrated faro bank of these gentle- 
men at the club provided Selwyn with an enormous amount of 
" copy " for his letters. " Supped last night at Brooks's with 
Lord Ossory, and chiefly on his account. There was a large 
company besides : the Dukes of Queensberry and of Devonshire, 
Percy Wyndham, Charles Fox, Hare etc. I stayed very late 
with Charles and Ossory, and I liked my evening very much. 
A great deal of the political system from Charles, which he 
expatiated upon in such a manner as gave me great entertain- 



CLUBS AND GAMING 295 

ment." This was only one of many pleasant suppers at Brooks's 
which Selwyn enjoyed in the year 1781. In the following spring 
Lord North's government tottered to its fall, and Brooks's be- 
came a centre of feverish Opposition activity. Such an atmos- 
phere was very antipathetic to George Selwyn ; yet a sort 
of fascination brought him again and again to the place. 
"Went last night to Brooks's and stayed with them all after 
supper, on purpose to hear their discourse, which is with as 
little reserve before me as if I was one of their friends." " I 
own that to see Charles closeted every instant at Brooks's by 
one or the other, that he can neither punt or deal for a quarter 
of an hour but he is obliged to give an audience, while Hare is 
whispering and standing behind him, like Jack Robinson, with 
a pencil and paper for memo, is to me a scene la plus parfaite- 
ment comique que 1'on puisse imaginer." " I called in at 
Brooks's last night but avoided all conversation, and will for 
the future with anyone belonging to the party. Their insolence, 
vanity and folly and the satisfaction expressed in their counten- 
ances upon fancying themselves ministers ... is no object to 
me now of mirth." 

" Stayed at Brooks's this morning till between two and three 
and then Charles was giving audiences in every corner of the 
room, and that idiot Lord D[erby] telling aloud whom he should 
turn out, how civil he intended to be to the P[rince] and how 
rude to the K[ing]." It was no wonder that Selwyn retreated 
more and more to White's. " I like the Society better here," 
he said. And he draws more than one picture of the "old 
fellows around the fire " at that club. " The Pharo table had 
cards on it," says he once, "and four hundred guineas, but not 
a punter to be found ; such old birds are not to be caught 
with chaff." No, no ! We shall leave play and politics to 
the youngsters, and sit at the fire, and cough, and tell stories. 

Almack's, Brooks's, and White's, were three of the most 
notorious gaming clubs in London, at a time when gaming 
haunted London society like a passion. There were giants 
of play in those days. Consider, for example, the classical 
instance of Charles James Fox, the most desperate gambler in 
that age of desperate gambling. Fox played so recklessly and 
with such an absolute disregard of ways and means as almost 
to suggest doubts of his sanity. The memoirs and letters of 



296 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

the time are full of his exploits at the gaming-table exploits 
which are so familiar to us as scarcely to need repetition. But 
here is his record for three nights, as preserved by Horace 
Walpole. Walpole is explaining that Fox did not shine in a 
certain debate upon the Thirty-Nine Articles in the House of 
Commons ; " nor could it," says he, " be wondered at. He had 
sat up playing at hazard at Almack's from Tuesday evening 
the 4th, till 5 in the afternoon of Wednesday 5th. An hour 
before he had recovered 12,000 that he had lost, and by dinner, 
which was at five o'clock, he had ended losing 11,000. On 
the Thursday, he spoke in the above debate, went to dinner at 
past eleven at night ; from thence to White's, where he drank 
till seven next morning ; thence to Almack's where he won 
6000; and between three and four in the afternoon he set 
out for Newmarket. His brother Stephen lost 11,000 two 
nights after, and Charles 10,000 more on the I3th, so that 
in three nights, the two brothers, the eldest not twenty-five, 
lost 32,000." This is the sort of thing that happened to 
Fox many times in his gaming career. He was, however, a 
splendid loser. After a disastrous night he would be found by 
Topham Beauclerk at an early hour of the morning studying 
Herodotus ("What would you have me do? I have lost 
my last shilling "), or talking to Horace Walpole at his coach 
window about the Marriage Act, or venturing a theological 
opinion in the congenial atmosphere of the House of Commons. 
Fox was easily first amongst the gamesters of Selwyn's set 
and time. But there were others of almost equal fame. There 
was Sir John Bland, who shot himself in 1755, having lost his 
entire fortune at hazard. In one night he lost, and won back 
again, 32,000. There was Lord Mountford, whose history 
was very similar. Having lost large sums of money at play, 
"he consulted several persons, indirectly at first, afterwards 
pretty directly on the easiest method of finishing life ; invited 
a dinner-party for the day after, supped at White's and played 
at whist till one o'clock of the New Year's morning. Lord 
Robert Bertie drank to him ' a happy New Year ' : he clapped 
his hand strangely to his eyes. In the morning he sent for a 
lawyer and three witnesses, executed his will, made them read 
it twice over, paragraph by paragraph, asked the lawyer if that 
will would stand good though a man were to shoot himself. 



CLUBS AND GAMING 297 

Being assured that it would, he said, ' Pray stay while I step 
into the next room ' went into the next room and shot him- 
self." The Georgian gamesters were not all so unfortunate. 
General Scott, a contemporary of Selwyn's, made a fortune of 
200,000 at cards, and kept it. But he was a whist player, the 
best of his time, and rarely touched faro, or threw a main at 
hazard. Equally wise was Lord Robert Spencer, who made 
;ioo,ooo by lucky play, and thereupon abandoned the gaming- 
table for ever. But it was no uncommon thing, as Walpole tells 
us, for the young men of that age to lose ten, fifteen, twenty 
thousand pounds in a single evening. "Lord Stavordale not 
one-and-twenty, lost .11,000 there [at Almack's] last Tuesday 
but recovered it by one great hand at hazard. He swore an 
oath, ' Lord, if I had been playing deep, I might have won 
millions."' 

We talk casually about the thousands lost and won at play 
in Selwyn's time, and wonder, perhaps, where the money came 
from ; but we seldom think of the social condition of England 
in that heroic age. Yet the contrast between the affluence of 
St James's Street and the poverty of the country was very 
striking, and well merits a moment's consideration. In St 
James's Street the Foxes and the Stavordales were tossing 
guineas about by the hundred thousand ; in the country men, 
women, and children were dying for want of the ordinary 
necessaries of life. There is still a contrast between wealth 
and poverty in this country : it is a commonplace of politicians 
of all parties, who will perhaps remedy it in another hundred 
years or so, if we are patient. But in the eighteenth century 
the contrast was even more striking than it is to-day. The 
wealth of England was in comparatively few hands. The 
society of the rich was a small society, and it was also, for 
a very obvious reason, a select society. Broadly speaking, 
agriculture was the staple industry of the time ; the industrial 
revolution had not yet begun ; and the prosperous classes were 
the classes who either owned or cultivated land. The gentle- 
men of England were the landlords of England, the owners 
of an enormously valuable natural monopoly. The guineas 
squandered at White's and Brooks's were not profits of trade : 
they were rents from the fertile English farms. Now the gentle- 
men " who did us the honour to govern us " were in a strong posi- 



298 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

tion. They owned the land of the country upon which grew 
the food of the country, and they took precious good care 
rigidly to exclude by means of a high tariff the importation of 
food from abroad. On the other hand, and even in seasons 
of scarcity, there was a large exportation of food to foreign 
countries, because when people are continually fighting as 
they were on the Continent they have no time to grow corn ; 
they must import it, and give good prices for it, too. Hence 
the extraordinary wealth of the English patricians of the 
eighteenth century. They were the agricultural interest, and 
the agricultural interest was the moneyed interest. All this 
was excellent business for the governing classes, but it was 
often a very sad business indeed for the governed (except 
perhaps the farmers). Take the year 1772 for example. In 
that year the distress in England was widespread and terrible. 
Wheat was 725. the quarter not by any means the highest 
price touched in the century (the price is 28s. or so now). 
The newspapers of the time which, by the way, are excel- 
lent, as they give the news in small compass, and are printed 
with clear type upon good paper are full of references to 
the prevailing distress, and of suggestions for its relief. Thus 
an advertisement appears in several newspapers for " subscribers 
for reducing the high price of provisions " : an example of 
charitable, but quixotic, private enterprise. A correspondent 
of The Public Advertiser for i6th April 1772 was of opinion, 
however, "that the subscription for reducing the present high 
price of provisions will prove abortive. To remedy so great 
and obvious an Evil requires great Labour, Penetration, and 
Patience. The Promoters and Patrons of this laudable Under- 
taking, he is afraid, will find an insuperable Difficulty in 
persuading the Farmer, the Grazier, the Salesman, and the 
Butcher, to lessen their various Profits so long as Property shall 
in this country be held sacred. A narrow, contracted, selfish 
Spirit is predominant throughout the Kingdom. The Land- 
holder, the Merchant, and the Trader, are equally rapacious 
with those above mentioned ; are equally zealous to make the 
most of their property ; and equally callous to the general 
Necessities and Sufferings of the Poor, as those very Men who 
are at present so much execrated. In a free and commercial 
Country, when Individuals lose sight of Honour, Liberality, 



CLUBS AND GAMING 299 

and Humanity, in their Mutual Dealings with one another, 
numberless Evils are introduced into the State, which, by 
Degrees, become almost insupportable ; and to add to the 
Affliction, cannot be redressed without unhinging the very 
pillars of our excellent Constitution. If it is not in the Power 
of the Legislature to remove the Evil so strongly and justly 
complained of there is little Reason to expect Relief or Redress 
from any other Interposition." 

Certain efforts were made even in the Legislature to remedy 
the evil. On the i6th of April in the same year a "bill for 
regulating the Importation and Exportation of Corn" was 
presented and read a first time. This was apparently only a 
" sliding scale " Bill. But another Bill for " Allowing the free 
importation of Wheat, Rice, Rye, etc." was also presented on 
that day and read a first time : the daring experiment of some 
free trader born out of due season. Needless to say the Bill 
went no further. " Whilst the lower classes " (said the Advertiser} 
" of People are almost starving for the Common Necessaries of 
Life, and some humane and generous Individuals are striving to 
alleviate their grievous Distresses, the Ministry look with a care- 
less Eye on such Concerns, being fully employed in stretching 
the Prerogative of the Crown, and making their Court to the 
King, in order to keep their Places, and wallow in the Wealth of 
the Community. The Ministry may indeed be truly said to be 
themselves the greatest of Engrossers, 1 as they have engrossed 
all the Places, and all the Riches of the Public ; and therefore it 
cannot be expected they should take any effectual Measures 
for preventing the Wicked proceedings of the Lesser. They 
will not allow the Importation of American Wheat, though the 
Cries of the Poor are, at this Time, so loud, and their Oppres- 
sion so very pinching, that there is too much Reason for appre- 
hending the greatest Distractions are at hand. ' But Gallio 
careth for none of these things.' "... 

" Surely a Man who exports a Sheep to France while his 
Fellow Subjects are starving deserves a capital punishment." 

Opposition journals like the Advertiser were not slow to con- 
trast the poverty of the country with the luxury of London 
society. " The present luxury of the times," said that journal 
in its issue of 6th May 1772, " may be easily estimated from the 
1 As we should say now, Trust magnates. 



300 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

Masquerade of last Thursday evening. Two Thousand persons 
at two guineas each make four thousand guineas, and if we rate 
the price of all the various Dresses at three guineas each [the 
money demanded at Tavistock Street for the use only of a 
domino] we shall immediately see that ten thousand guineas, 
besides the expense of chair and coach hire, were lavished on 
the entertainment of a single night, while our Poor are absolutely 
perishing for bread in various parts of the Kingdom." 

The point might be emphasised by many examples from the 
gaming world. It was in this year that the Fox brothers lost 
^32,000 in two nights. In this year also, as we find from the 
books of Almack's, a Mr Thynne, "having won only 12,000 
guineas during the last two months, retired in disgust. March 
2 1st, 1772." So we might go on for long enough, underlining 
the moral ; but we must hasten back to Mr George Selwyn, who 
lived and died before it was fashionable to regard the Condition- 
of-the-people question as acute. 

Selwyn has the reputation of having been one of the most . 
reckless of gamesters of his time; but here again a little 
healthy scepticism is permissible. As a matter of fact he was 
never really a " deep " player, and cannot be considered as 
having been in what we may call the first rank of Georgian 
gamesters : the rank of Charles Fox and his friends. For most 
of his life, it is true, he was a steady patron of the gaming- 
table, and was in consequence frequently in financial difficulties ; 
but his gains and losses at play were not considerable, as gains 
and losses went in those days. For this there were many 
reasons. In the first place, Selwyn was a "duffer" at the 
principal gambling games hazard, quinze and faro. He was 
a tolerable whist player, like Charles Fox, and like him could 
have made a fair income from cards if he had confined his 
attention to that game. But again, George Selwyn was a poor 
man. At the best of times his income was probably well under 
three thousand a year ; often it was much less. Now it is 
quite true that poverty was no bar to the Georgian gamester. 
He was a sporting man, who played for a win ; and if he lost, 
mysterious bonds and other legal documents made their appear- 
ance (generally in company with persons of the Hebrew race), 
and tided the loser over until the next win. But here the 
second reason for Selwyn's comparative moderation at the 



CLUBS AND GAMING 301 

gaming-table begins to operate. George Selwyn came of a 
family noted for its shrewdness and carefulness in all matters 
relating to money. His father, John Selwyn, was reckoned 
extremely thrifty and careful, and his mother had something of 
the same reputation. George inherited a share at least of this 
family virtue. He never lost his head at cards, or plunged 
wildly on the turf, or booked extravagant and impossible 
wagers. Behind all his " passion for play " was a shrewd and 
serious estimate of ways and means ; a calculated finance ; a 
nice knowledge of the imperative limit. Thus, through all the 
insensate gaming of the Georgian period, Selwyn arrived at a 
comparatively unembarrassed old age. But he had his experi- 
ences. " I am very sorry to hear," writes Lord March to him 
in 1765, " that you are still throwing out as well as me. I fear 
if luck does not come soon, it will only find us at five pound 
stakes." " Throwing-out " refers, of course, to hazard, described 
as " the most gambling of all games of chance." At hazard the 
player selects a "main" on the dice, and calls it aloud. If 
he throws it, he " nicks " it and wins ; if he throws another 
number that number becomes his " chance," and the player takes 
another throw. If he throws his " chance" again, he wins, and 
goes on " throwing-in." Bnt if he "throws out" three times, 
the box passes to the next player. Hazard and faro both 
games of pure chance were the most popular games at the 
clubs in Selwyn's time. Faro (or pharo) was a card game, easy 
to learn and quiet : " certainly the most bewitching game that 
is played with dice ; for when a man begins to play he knows 
not when to leave off." Faro tables were freely kept both at 
Brooks's and White's by members : the expense of a faro bank 
amounted, it was said, to ,1000 a year; but the profits were 
sometimes enormous. Thus the bank operated at Brooks's by 
Lord Robert Spencer and Richard Fitzpatrick brought both 
men large fortunes. Lord Robert was said to have pocketed 
as his share .100,000, after which, like a wise man, he gave up 
play and retired into private life. 

But to continue the experiences of George Selwyn. In 
the same year (1765) March writes again : "When I came home 
last night I found your letter on my table. So you have 
lost a thousand pounds, which you have done twenty times 
in your life-time, and won it again as often, and why should 



302 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

not the same thing happen again ? I make no doubt that 
it will. I am sorry, however, that you have lost your money : 
it is unpleasant. In the meantime, what the devil signify 
le fable de Paris or the nonsense of White's ? You may be 
sure they will be glad you have lost your money : not because 
they dislike you but because they like to laugh. . . . All that 
signifies nothing : the disagreeable part is having lost your 
money ; Almack's or White's will bring all back again." This 
1000 seems to have been lost at Paris, but in the same year 
Mr I. Shafto duns him for the same amount. " I intended to 
have spoke to you last night ... in regard to the one thousand 
pounds you owe me. ... I hope it will not be inconvenient to 
you to leave the money for me at White's either to-morrow 
or next day." Selwyn paid Mr Shafto with money borrowed 
from Lord March. Lenders were not all so accommodating 
as March. Richard Fitzpatrick, applied to for assistance, is 
" heartily sorry for your malheur, though it is some satisfaction 
to me to find the resolutions of others are not more binding 
than my own." He promises to speak to Stephen Fox, and 
can give Selwyn " no other hopes." In an unpublished letter 
(now in Sir John Rotton's possession) a certain " Drummond " 
(one of the banking Drummonds, perhaps) is "heartily sorry 
I cannot comply with your request, having determined to 
lend no money on personal security, and hope therefore you 
will excuse, sir, your most obedient humble servant." Selwyn 
must often have been hardly pressed. The Earl of Derby 
writes him in or about the year 1776 : " Nothing can equal 
what I feel at troubling you with this disagreeable note : but, 
having lost a very monstrous sum of money last night, I 
find myself under the necessity of entreating your goodness 
to excuse the liberty I am taking now of applying to you for 
assistance. If it is not very inconvenient to you I should be 
glad of the money you owe me. If it is, I must pay what I 
can, and desire Brookes to trust me for the remainder. I 
repeat again my apologies, to which I shall beg leave to add 
how very sincerely I have the honour to be, my dear Sir, 
your most obedient humble servant, Derby." Was ever a 
loser dunned in a more gentlemanly manner? Of course 
there were many ways of raising money besides that of borrow- 
ing from friends. Thus, so early as the year 1758, George 



CLUBS AND GAMING 303 

Selwyn had mortgaged the parsonage of Whitchurch in Hamp- 
shire (part of the family property) to one John Blake, for 500 ; 
he paid it off again in 1761. 1 This was in all probability to pay 
a gambling debt. He had other mortgages of which we know 
nothing. But in 1782 Selwyn had a grand financial clearing 
up. " I have told you that my affairs are en rtgie" he writes to 
Carlisle, "that is, I have borrowed money of Coutts to pay 
all my debts of every kind, but a mortgage of .2000, but 
that comes at the rear of the rest, and I am to take from him 
for my own provision, two hundred guineas a month, that is, 
2520 a year. Moyennant cet arrangement, all my encum- 
brances will end with the next year . . . and then excepting 
age and infirmities I shall be rectus in curia. ... I remember 
when one half satisfied all my occasions, even mesfantasies y play 
excluded, and now the double of the sum seems a restraint." 

Did Selwyn ever completely abandon the gaming-table? 
He certainly made many efforts, between 1770 and 1780, to 
limit his play to reasonable amounts. Friends like Lord 
Holland and Lord Carlisle were continually giving him advice 
upon the subject. " Leave off play ! " wrote the former. " You 
are a fool at it ! " " Much obliged to you for your hint about 
hazard," Selwyn writes to Carlisle, a little stiffly ; and on another 
occasion asks him to "give me no flings about it." In response, 
however, to Carlisle's " flings," Selwyn did consent to what he 
called a " tie " that is, an arrangement by which he agreed not 
to risk more than a certain amount at play, on pain of forfeit. 
Some of his friends were angry, and Hare said it was the 
" damned'st thing to do at this time in the world." The " tie," 
however, did not long subsist. In the following year (1775) 
Selwyn is apologising to Carlisle for his lapses, and allowing 
that the comparison of him to "Arlequin" was "just." Un- 
deterred, Arlequin makes a new proposal : " What I propose is 
to receive a guinea or two guineas and to pay twenty for every 
ten which I shall lose in the same day above fifty at any game 
of chance. I reserve the fifty for an unexpected necessity of 
playing in the country or elsewhere, with women. . . . If you 
tie me up, I beg my forfeiture may go to the children, and then 
perhaps I may forfeit for their sakes, you'll say." These child- 
ish expedients were probably of little effect. But as Selwyn 
1 Close Rolls, i Geo. III. Pt. XIj 



304 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

approached the age of sixty and found his household cares and 
anxieties increase he appears gradually to have given up the 
gaming-table. So late as 1780, however, Mr William Wilber- 
force saw him keeping bank at faro at Brooks's, and has left a 
striking little portrait of him in that capacity. " The first time 
I was at Brookes's," says Wilberforce, " scarcely knowing any- 
one, I joined from mere shyness, in play at the faro table, where 
George Selwyn kept bank. A friend, who knew my inexperience 
and regarded me as a victim decked out for the sacrifice called 
to me, 'What, Wilberforce! is that you?' Selwyn quite re- 
sented the interference, and turning to him said in his most 
expressive tone, 'Oh, sir! don't interrupt Mr Wilberforce, he 
could not be better employed.' " Selwyn's faro bank at White's 
in 1781 was probably his last extensive venture in play, and it 
was not successful. He had become quite virtuous in 1782. 
" I hear of no news," he says, writing to Carlisle. " The gaming 
world would afford a great deal, but," he adds piously, " I hope 
it will never any more be interesting to either of us." And 
again he writes : " Pharaon (faro) s'empare de tous les quartiers 
de la ville. It may approach me under any guise it pleases 
but it will never succeed with me for any time. ... It is time 
in my sixty-third year to know what I am worth and can count 
upon." According to an obituary notice which appeared in the 
Annual Register in 1791, Selwyn entirely gave up play before his 
death, except for trifling sums. " It was one of the greatest con- 
sumers," he said, " of time, fortune, constitution, and thinking." 
An admirable sentiment this, smacking somewhat of the aged 
sinner virtuous by the necessity of his years. 



CHAPTER XV 

LATER YEARS 

WE have already dealt with the later years of George 
Selwyn so far as they covered the life that he lived 
in public: at Paris, in politics, the clubs, and society, 
and have now only to glance, very briefly, at his more intimate 
and personal life during the same period. 

The family mansion in Cleveland Court was for many years 
Selwyn's headquarters in London. But it was probably much 
too large for a single gentleman ; and accordingly, in or about 
the year 1768, Selwyn let it to his nephew, " Tommy" Towns- 
hend, who had a family, and acquired for himself the lease of 
a house in Chesterfield Street, Mayfair. 1 This was his London 
residence for the next twelve or thirteen years. Chesterfield 
Street is one of the quietest streets in Mayfair, and is to-day 
not very different in appearance from what it was when Selwyn 
knew it. About 1781 he returned to Cleveland Court, and the 
house in Chesterfield Street remained empty for a time. Lady 
Macartney wished to hire it, but Selwyn was resolved " not to 
let it to an acquaintance." Nevertheless he did apparently after- 
wards let it to an acquaintance, Isabella, Countess of Carlisle, 
the mother of his friend. Whether he sold it to her or not does 
not appear. He must have disposed of it before his death, as 
it is not mentioned in his will, and it was not, like Matson and 
Cleveland Court, settled property. Meanwhile Selwyn was glad 
to come back to Cleveland Court when the Townshends left it. 

[To MARY TOWNSHEND] 2 

"HOUSE OF COMMONS 
"Thursday Night \circ. 1781] 

" I did certainly desire the favour of you to settle in any 
manner which you judged to be right, the account between your 
brother and me relative to the house in Cleveland Court, and 

1 This may have been the house " near Mayfair Chappel," left to him in 
his father's will. 

2 Marsham-Townshend MSS. 

U 305 



306 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

I am still desirous that it may be concluded as speedily as 
possible, by the mode which you will think the most reason- 
able. I know your exactness and am sure that your judgment 
will have no biass but to what my affection as well as your own 
will naturally direct it. ... The house is, as I am told now, 
thoroughly repaired. If I live a certain number of years I shall 
receive the benefit of it. If I do not, I hope that your brother 
and his family will have the longest enjoyment of it possible. I 
was by no means impatient to take possession of it, and should 
perhaps never have thought of it, if the number of my family 
was not necessarily increased. I would have taken another 
house with all my heart as I told your brother if either he or 
Mrs Townshend had had any reluctance to go out. But as he 
chose to settle in that in which he was to stay for some time, as 
soon as he could and as I could not resolve to make a perpetual 
renunciation of it, so it was determined, I hope, according to his 
own inclination and that the time of leaving it, is so also. I 
did not expect it to be at soonest till the very end of the year. 

" When I happened to fall upon this subject with Mr Wood- 
cock, as I did some time ago he seemed to have the most equitable 
idea of what was to be done and in that I should acquiesce, if you 
was of his mind. He is a man of business, but he is a gentleman 
also, and . . . he knows more perfectly than anybody how much 
it is my disposition to act in everything whereby nearest rela- 
tions are concerned, as much by the dictates of affection as my 
present circumstances will possibly allow. I am, dear Mary, 
most affectionately yours, G. SELWYN " 

During this time Selwyn alternated between London and 
Matson, with occasional visits to Bath and Tunbridge Wells. 
Like a sensible man, he had a high opinion of Tunbridge Wells. 
It was, he said, "for a little time in the summer, with a family, 
and for people who do not find a great deal of occupation at 
their country houses, one of the prettiest places in the world. 
The houses are so many bijouzs made up for the occasion, 
so near the place, so agreste, and the whole an air of such 
simplicity, that I am delighted with it, as much as when my 
amusements were, as they were formerly, at the Rooms and 
upon the Pantiles, which are now to me detestable." This was 
in 1774. Dr John Warner praised Tunbridge also, its "people 
of quality, fine clothes, and music"; "but after all," he adds, 
" how much more charming is Matson ! " Selwyn usually 
spent a few weeks at Matson in the autumn, not because he 



LATER YEARS 307 

thought it charming, but because of his position as M.P. for the 
city. He was a J.P. also, and sometimes sat on the local Bench 
" acting Trapolin with a vengeance " as Gilly Williams said. 
When Mie Mie returned to England in 1779 he went more 
gladly to Gloucester, as it was good for the child's health. It 
was surely almost worth the banishment to receive such amus- 
ing letters as Dr Warner sent to him and to Mie Mie at this 
time. " My sweet little Queen ! " exclaims the doctor once, " I 
shall be au desespoir if I have not a letter from you and Miss 
Selwyn on Monday morning. An ugly, envious cloud hid 
the moon from me last night at 9 o'clock. I hope for better 
luck to-night. You, perhaps, might see the moon, as the 
sky looked clear toward your quarter, but you could not see 
your poor Snail, as he was under a cloud. Matson House, you 
know, bears directly S. W. from Scrivelsby Parsonage ; or if you 
don't know it, you presently may, if our best friend will get 
you a pretty plaything, which will amuse you into the know- 
ledge of the geography of your native country. We always drink 
your health at Scrivelsby. I am, your loving SNAIL " 

This jolly worldling of a parson had no hesitation in reveal- 
ing himself in his letters to his patron. " I have been preaching 
this morning," says he, " and am going to dine where ? in the 
afternoon. We shall bolt the door and (but hush ! softly ! let 
me whisper it, for it is a violent secret and I shall be blown 
to the devil if I blab, as in this house we are ' Noah and his 
precise family ') and play at cards ... oh how I long to see 
you all ! My sweet little Queen, and the dear lady whom you 
used so ill and aspersed. My little Queen, rejoice to see 
your Snail (as he will to see his little Queen) and let your eye 
be herald to your heart." Once he grows lyrical on the subject 
of food. " Three John-Dories and a stewed ox-cheek ! Stop 
sir ! Never leave a place where you can get such eating ! Stay 
oh stay, and let me come to you." About this time Selwyn 
pulled down an old house which stood close to Matson and 
built stables with the stones, and Doctor Warner provided him 
with the following inscription : 

"AEDIFICIUM VETUSTATE COLLAPSUM 
RESTITUIT G. A. SELWYN 
1780" 



The stables remain, but there is no sign of Dr Warner's 
inscription. 

Selvvyn never had any other house in London besides the 
two in Chesterfield Street and Cleveland Court respectively. 
But in 1773 he had great hopes of obtaining a charming 
residence in the Green Park, which went with the Deputy- 
Rangership of Hyde and St James's Parks. Selwyn was not, 
however, to be Deputy-Ranger, as Lord March makes clear in 
a letter to his friend. " Orford has had many applications for 
the Deputy-Rangership," he writes, " and one from the Duke of 
Gloucester. But he intends to give it to Shirley, which he has 
told his Royal Highness : so far that is settled ; but you do not 
know what is likewise settled, which is, that you are to have 
the house, provided his Majesty approves of it, which I am sure 
he will. I imagine that Orford means that you should give 
Shirley a hundred ; by that means Orford gives him two 
hundred a year which will be very convenient to him or he 
is quite undone. You cannot think how happy I am that you 
are to have a house and so pretty a one, so very near to mine : 
it is, you know, what we have both wished so much." Lord 
Orford was Ranger of St James's and Hyde Parks at this time ; 
and the house referred to stood within the Green Park, almost 
opposite to " Q.'s" house in Piccadilly now Nos. 138 and 139. 
After all, Selwyn did not obtain the house, probably very much 
to the disappointment both of himself and of "Q." It was 
pulled down in 1843, its last tenant being Lady William 
Gordon. 

When Mie Mie began to grow up, Selwyn greatly wished to 
have a villa somewhere near London, to which he could retire 
in the summer and autumn months. He wanted the fresh 
country air for Mie Mie ; but, for his own comfort, it must not 
be too far from the " flags of Piccadilly." Matson was out of 
the world ; besides, his aversion from Gloucester became more 
pronounced after the election of 1780. " I shall undoubtedly 
take the first agreeable house I can find," he tells Carlisle, 
"... my thoughts are upon Chiswick, or on the road to the 
Oaks." At another time he thought of Streatham, where the 
Duchess of Bedford offered him a house. Indeed, he stayed 
there for six weeks in 1781, and made use of the opportunity 
to look out for " a country house for next year, and perhaps 



LATER YEARS 309 

the Duke of Q. may do the same, for from that distance to 
about ten miles further we have agreed is the best to answer 
our purpose. We must necessarily have two houses that purity 
and impurity may not occasionally meet." In the end both Purity 
and Impurity took houses at Richmond. So early as 1775 
Selwyn had spent a few weeks there in the summer with the 
infant Mie Mie; it was a favourite pleasure spot of his. But 
no doubt it was the Duke of Queensberry who finally brought 
Selwyn to Richmond. That nobleman purchased his famous 
villa at Richmond in 1780, and forthwith if we are to believe 
"Q.'s "biographers began to celebrate most unholy orgies by the 
banks of the Thames. Contemporary letters, however, hardly 
bear out these allegations. Some of Q.'s dinner parties seem 
to have been most quiet and respectable, the guests including 
members of Parliament, bishops, and other serious people. In 
1782 Selwyn took a villa somewhere near his friend, and thence- 
forth until his death spent much of his time at Richmond. In 
one of his letters to Carlisle he draws an agreeable picture of 
his life there : " I have no thought myself," says he, " of settling 
in London, nor am I desirous of it, while the Thames can be 
kept in due bounds. At present it is subdued, and all above is 
clear after a certain hour, and my house is the warmest and 
most comfortable of any ; and when I came here to dinner on 
Saturday last, having given my servants a day's law, everything 
was in as much order, as if I had never left it. The Duke dines 
with me when he is here a little after four, and when we have 
drunk our wine, we resort to his Great Hall, bien eclairee, bien 
tchauffee, to drink our coffee, and hear Quintettes. The hall 
is hung round with the Vandyke pictures (as they are called) 
and they have a good effect. But I wish that there had been 
another room or gallery for them, that the hall might have 
been without any other ornament but its own proportions." A 
pleasant sketch, is it not? Purity and Impurity in their old 
age, drinking coffee, and listening to quintettos, and criticising 
works of art : not quite lurid enough for the moralist, perhaps, 
who would prefer a peep at the diversions of the corps di ballet ', 
with which I am sorry we cannot oblige him. 

Let us interrupt the narrative for a moment to tell of a little 
legal and financial trouble which happened to Selwyn at this 
time. His correspondence with Carlisle contains many refer- 



310 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

ences to an Irish lawsuit in which he was concerned. " My 
connections with Ireland," he writes once, "which I wish to God 
were at an end. There is one indeed which will plague me 
while I live, and that is an annuity upon Mr Gore's Estate which 
I must sue for as regularly as it becomes due." In another 
letter he mentions " that scoundrel Gore," and relates how he 
has instituted a suit in the Dublin Courts against this gentle- 
man. The facts appear from a Bill filed in the Chancery Courts 
of Ireland in 1787: George Augustus Selwyn v. The Earl of 
Arran, Richard Gore, Sir R. Steele, etc., etc., 1 the recital to 
which throws an interesting light upon the composition of 
George Selwyn's income. It tells how James, Lord Tyrawly, 
was seized of certain lands, salmon, trout, and eel fisheries, 
at " Beeleak," on the River Moy, and in various Irish counties. 
Upon these lands, etc., Lord Tyrawly granted John Selwyn 
("father of suppliant") three annuities of 100 per annum 
each, to be paid quarterly during John Selwyn's life and during 
the life of " suppliant " his son, George Augustus Selwyn. In 
1751 Lord Tyrawly sold the lands, with the annuities still 
charged upon them, to the Earl of Arran, then Sir Arthur Gore. 
The annuities were paid regularly until 1780, when Mr Richard 
Gore (upon whose lands in Mayo the annuities were then 
charged) began to make default. In 1783 three years' arrears 
were due, and George Selwyn applied in Chancery for an order 
for payment of 900, and for the appointment of a receiver of 
Gore's lands in Mayo. The court thereupon appointed a re- 
ceiver who was to pay Selwyn his ,900, and the succeeding 
annuity sums. But in the same year a private Act of Parlia- 
ment vested the lands in question in the Right Hon. Barry 
Yelverton and others, still, apparently, with the annuities 
attached. In consequence of this Act the receiver was dis- 
charged when only 343 had been paid to George Selwyn. 
Payments continued to be made irregularly; but in 1787 sup- 
pliant alleges that .1739, is. lid. Irish is due to him, "and the 
Defendants refuse to pay or give information." The defendants 
in their reply admit most of the facts ; but Mr Richard Gore 
alleges that the receiver appointed in 1783 paid Mr Selwyn all 
that was due to him, and denies that there is any necessity to 
appoint a new receiver. There is no decree attached to the 
1 Irish Chancery Records. 



LATER YEARS 311 

bill, so that we cannot say how this protracted litigation ended. 
But it certainly plagued Selwyn a good deal during his de- 
clining years. 

Richmond must have been a pleasant little town in those 
days, when the Walpoles and the Queensberrys and the 
Selwyns gathered there, and dined at each other's houses, and 
spent afternoons on the river and the hill. Such card-parties, 
dinners, balls, assemblies, as there were, not to speak of the 
theatre, in which Lord Barrymore played to admiring audiences. 
George Selwyn seems thoroughly to have enjoyed his last few 
years at Richmond, despite indifferent health, and other 
anxieties. Mie Mie was now old enough to be a companion to 
him. She appears to have returned his affection, and always 
to have treated him with kindness and consideration. When 
he was ill she nursed him ; she was a " good nurse," he said. 
We get many glimpses of their Richmond life both in the 
letters of Horace Walpole and in Selwyn's own letters to the 
Carlisles. " Richmond is in the first request this summer," 
writes Walpole in 1789. " Mrs Bouverie is settled there with a 
large court. The Sheridans are there, too, and the Bunburys. 
I have been once with the first ; with the others I am not 
acquainted. I go once or twice a week to George Selwyn late 
in the evening, when he comes in from walking." Another 
time he goes to see "the Duke of Queensberry's palace at 
Richmond, under the conduct of George Selwyn, the concierge. 
You cannot imagine how noble it looks." But Selwyn himself 
gives many sketches of his Richmond life in his letters to 
Lady Carlisle. " Caroline [Lady Carlisle's daughter, married 
to Mr Campbell, and living at Isleworth] is perfectly well . . . 
I have not seen her to-day. ... At present I only know that 
about 12 o'clock last night she eat plumb cake and drank 
wine and water in my parlour she, Mr Campbell and Mie Mie, 
and who besides I have not yet asked. I was in bed when she 
came; it was an heure perdue, but not lost upon me, for I was 
not asleep, nor could sleep till I heard that those two girls were 
come home safe. From what, in the name of God ? you will 
say. From seeing that etourdi Lord Barrymore play the fool 
in three or four different characters upon our Richmond Theatre. 
Well, but what did that signify ? Nothing to me ! let him ex- 
pose himself on as many stages as he pleases . . . but he comes 



312 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

here and assembles as many people ten miles around as can 
squeeze into the Booth. ... I did not expect them to be clear 
of the House till near twelve, so went into my room, and soon 
after to bed, but I slept well, for I had heard of them. They 
were all, I tell you, before twelve in my parlour, eating cake 
and chattering, talking the whole farce over, comme a la grille du 
convent? Another time Selwyn reflects with satisfaction upon 
an intimacy which he had struck up with his own fireside, " to 
which perhaps in the course of the winter I may admit that 
very popular man, Mr Thomas Jones " under the patronage 
of Mr Henry Fielding, we may guess. He also proposed to 
read " Dr White's Bampton Lectures which they say contains 
the most agreeable account imaginable of our Religion com- 
pared with that of Mahomet ... I have a design upon Botany 
Bay and Gibber's Apology for his own life, which everybody 
has read, and which I should have read myself forty years ago 
if I had not preferred the reading of men so much to that of 
books." Selwyn was becoming quite a literary critic in his old 
age. 

[To MARY TowNSHKNDJ 1 

" RICHMOND 
"September i7th, 1787 

" I am much obliged to you and Lady Middleton that you 
have ever had it in contemplation to make me a visit at Matson. 
I cannot expect it but when it happens to be convenient to 
you. If I had my choice of the time I must own that I had 
rather the voyage were in a more agreeable season for all things 
considered and known to you, who have been there. I think 
you would find less inconvenience in the summer than now. 
But we will talk of that when I shall have the pleasure to see 
you next, and I will endeavour to enjoy you and your sister's 
company at Matson in imagination till the party shall actually 
take place, against which time I may perhaps provide some 
accommodation which you and I agreed were very necessary 
when I was to receive visits from the Ladies. We live now in 
an improved age and in some respects at least are more delicate 
than those who preceded us, and what they could dispense 
with we cannot. Now we can have a patent for every lower 
convenience of life. I intend myself to go to Matson the latter 
1 Marsham-Townshend MSS. 



LATER YEARS 313 

end of this month for about a fortnight or three weeks more or 
less as the weather encourages us to stay or drives us from the 
place. Mie Mie seems very well pleased to change the scene 
and very soon relinquished the idea of going to a place near 
the sea upon finding that I thought that there was no real 
occasion for it. I believe her temptation was to pass a month 
with a lady and her little boy who were to go to some bathing 
place, and this was Mrs Saltren. How or why she has become 
such a favourite I cannot guess, and it would be to no purpose 
to censure what I believe has no foundation but Caprice. 
However, although I have no objection to the Lady, and have 
for her sister an infinite respect and esteem, I mean Mrs 
Meadows, yet I cannot say that I am pleased with warm con- 
fidential friendships between young ladies however innocently 
they are formed, they are seldom of any use in the beginning 
of life and when we grow older we are sufficiently convinced 
how few are attended with any solid benefit. But Mrs S., 
whom I do not mean to describe as a young person, has taken 
a part which will be more amusing to herself and gone with 
Mr Hamilton and his family to the baths, so we are left to 
ourselves, which is what I wished. I am afraid that as I can- 
not have your company we must be content to try, by the 
contrast, how agreeable we can make a retreat from this place, 
which is too much rather in the other extreme. I should have 
hoped for Mrs Fr. Selwyn's company, but Louise is, I am 
afraid, too ill to be left or to go anywhere from home. On 
our return hither from Matson we shall stay here till about the 
2Oth November, and then our plan is to go to Castle H[oward] 
till after Christmas. I am there satisfied with every circum- 
stance of life. I have company enough, quiet enough for 
myself, and for Mie Mie a system of life which I am sure is 
the best that can be. All that family is now set out and will 
not return, I believe, until the Parliament meets. When I get 
there I may perhaps choose for my reading the book you 
mention ; I have heard much of it. If the author abuses 
B[ishop] Burnet and with wit, I shall like it ; if with Truth, I 
shall be informed ; but without one or the other it will make 
no impression upon me. I have no desire as you imagine to 
have the Bishop more abused than he deserves. I am willing 
to suppose that he was an honest, well-meaning man, in some 
things well instructed, in others as much imposed upon. The 
main of what he means to tell is true in some parts, unless he 
has been misled and on purpose. He was, I believe, what 
Dr Paulet said of B[ishop] Atterbury, a meddling priest, and 
deserved some animadversions on that account from those of 



314 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

the Opposite Party and had better luck than some who get 
hanged for nothing but because they were foolishly eager in 
the pursuit of being too important. Your favourite Prince, 
King William, is a favourite of mine also, and I think he who 
abdicated, if for no other reason, one of the weakest men that 
ever lived, with some very bad qualities besides. But born in 
a monarchical Government, and in a very early period of my 
life, a witness of the respect which was paid to the Person on 
the throne and to his Royal family by all honest persons, as 
well as by my own relations who had such great obligations to 
them, I have imbibed for monarchy and those who represent it 
a sort of reverence that neither Mr Wilkes, Mr Fox, Mr Burke, 
Parson Home, or even the Marquis of Rockingham can 
obliterate. Oliver Cromwell was a man with some abilities 
and strength of mind, but, as his little descendant 1 does not 
hear me, I will be free to say un des plus grands scelerats qui 
fut jamais, and yet he may have been the Progenitor of an 
amiable offspring. He was, besides, himself not without some 
drops of Royal blood, as you, by his pedigree, may see. But 
that was so corrupted in him that the King's Evil was substi- 
tuted in the room of it. Your little charge has in her veins 
some other blood, that of my father's, and if I live to see her in 
any of her qualities resemble him I will forgive her being a 
descendant of the man who called himself our Protector ; so 
de ce cote la je 1'embrasse et je desire qu'elle aille au Paradis 
sur la fin de mon Pere, you remember the passage in Mme. de 
SeVign^'s letter, and in the meantime she shall have my blessing 
if, unconsecrated, it can be of any use to her. . . . Most 
affectionately yours." 

Selwyn moved from Richmond to Cleveland Court for some 
weeks in the winter, so that Mie Mie might have all the ad- 
vantages of life in town. Once he gave a " Drum " at his house, 
which was not altogether a success. " I had a Drum," he tells 
Carlisle, " and that began early ; I was to prepare for it, I was 
to be served in ambigu y and it was to be the easiest most 
agreeable, best understood thing in the world. It was my 
apprehension the very antipode of this. I do not know how my 
company felt, but I was not at my ease a moment. I had a Com- 
merce table, and one of Whist. My company were Middletons, 

1 Who the " little descendant " was is doubtful : probably (from the 
context) one of the Midleton children. Lady Midleton was George 
Selwyn's niece. 



LATER YEARS 315 

Bostons, Townshends and Selwyns. March came to the door 
at eleven, but hearing that supper was served, and almost over, 
and perhaps hearing of the company too, he went away ; they 
were all good kind of people, and who I daresay had conversa- 
tion enough in their own families, but although we were all 
related, we had not one word to say to one another . . . the 
cook, the housekeeper, and Maitre Jacques all exerted them- 
selves, and did their parts tolerably well, but rien ria pu me 
mettre a mon aise, and the more I tried to be at home the more I 
was desoriente\ so I believe I shall try some other kind of party 
for the future." Selwyn's visits to Matson were at this time 
few and far between, but he did usually contrive to spend a 
week or two there in the autumn, as much for Mie Mie's sake 
as for his own. In July of 1788, however, he was practically 
compelled to go down to Matson, since his Gracious Majesty, 
King George 1 1 1., who was staying at Cheltenham, had intimated 
that he would honour Mr Selwyn with a visit. On Qth July 
1788 Horace Walpole writes to Lady Ossory : " Mr Selwyn 
has been confined in town by a fever, and I have not seen him 
since the royal progress was intended. I do hope his Matson 
will be illustrated again, as it was at the siege of Gloucester. 
How happy he would be to have the present Prince of Wales 
and Duke of York leave their names with a pen knife on his 
window, as the sons of Charles I. did, though, unless some of 
the personages end as unfortunately, he will never be so fond 
of them." Selwyn alludes both to the fever mentioned by 
Walpole and to the " Royal progress " in the following letter 
to Mary Townshend. 1 

" Tuesday [July 1788] 

" I thank you, and Charles ; I go out, it is true, but I return 
home soon, and I go to Bed soon, and I am sparing in my Diet. 
All these are symptoms of my not feeling myself quite well ; 
but having a great mind to be so. And it is true, for altho' I 
cannot help my friends leaving me, and when they do no one 
regrets them more, yet I have no mind to leave them, while I 
can live with them cheerfully, and that cannot be either in pain 
or without perfect Health. I have had a slight fever, which I 
thought was going away with my last fee to Dr G. Baker, but 
point du tout. It pretended to take Leave and then had encore 
1 Marsham-Townshend MSS. 



316 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

un petit mot a 1'oreille, and so came back et menace encore, 
but I think will pass, and without young Duchesses, young 
Lords and young ministers, to which I might add young Tricks 
of my own, I may do well and boast on a few years longer, and 
even without much Labour and sorrow. I propose to go to 
Matson on Sunday, a petite journee, but Ly. Carlisle, who does 
not wish to lose me, advises me rather to stay for fear of a 
Relapse and not go where I may not have so many Resources 
as here. I do not fear now a relapse, and if I had one I shall 
be as well satisfied in the Hands of my Gloucester friends as 
here. I am persuaded that there is nothing in my case, either 
of Body or Mind, that will require much skill to judge of it. 
Experiments I have always held to be dangerous in both cases. 
Mrs Fr. Selwyn goes with us, and Ld. Carlisle's family will be 
at Cheltenham, as soon as their Majesties going away will 
leave Room for them. I am told that I shall have a visit from 
that Quarter, which I do not think quite possible. But as 
Curiosity more than friendship will bring that Illustrious Party 
to Matson, so I hope that Curiosity will be gratified before I 
come. I shall be contented to learn from my Gardner what 
Reflections are made upon that old Mansion. Of the Situation, 
there can be but one Opinion. Poor Matson was built under 
an odd Planet at once the Monarch's and the Muses' Seat, for so 
Warner has contrived to make it by divulging those foolish 
verses about me, which I supplicated him to suppress. 

" But, if it be otherwise, and Mie Mie and I should be surprised 
by a Royal visitation we must do our best. And if H. M. should 
take it into his head to go up into the Gallery and see the Bust 
of that unfortunately murdered King, murdered by his own 
subjects, giving to their Horrid act the form of Law, what shall 
I say to him ? Tell me. Shall I say as Card. Fleury did to 
the Dauphin : ' la visite de sa mort.' Que Je suis fache de lui 
presenter un si triste spectacle, mais que Je crois qu'il n'est pas 
[16se-majest6 ?] de propos qu'un grand Prince vit etc. etc. 

" I believe with Princes and their Ministers the fewest 
words are best, and as Lord Clarendon says of the Earl of 
Northumberland, the fewer idle words we have to answer for the 
better, so I shall say only trop d'honneur, sire, et en demeurer 
la. 

" Be so good as to make my best compliments to Lord 
Cornwallis when you write to him, and thank him for the kind- 
ness, which at my request he has shown to Mr Perreau. I should 
not have taken that liberty, but that I thought myself justified 
not only by compassion for an innocent youth but my having 
heard from all hands that he was a very deserving young man, and 



LATER YEARS 317 

I am glad to hear that Ld. C. has found my report of him to 
have been true. 

" When I return from Gloucestershire, if I do not, instead of 
coming to London go across the country to C[astle] Howard, I 
shall go to Richmond, and from there will make you a visit at 
Chislehurst for a couple of days. If I should hear that you are 
without company, and our coming will not be inconvenient ; but 
of that hereafter. 

" W. Broderick dined with me yesterday. He is a very good- 
humoured agreeable young man. I was in hopes to have heard 
confirmed a piece of news concerning his Brother Tom qui a du 
merite aussi. He knows nothing of it. Your most affectly." 

Selwyn's references to the royal visit do not ring quite true. 
He was suspiciously anxious to get to Matson, notwithstanding 
his fever. Walpole was nearer the truth when he wrote : " Mr 
Selwyn, I do not doubt, is superlatively happy. I am curious 
to know what relics he had gleaned from the royal visit, that he 
can bottle up, and place in his sanctum sanctorum" We shall 
hardly be far wrong in thinking that Selwyn was prodigiously 
delighted with his sovereign's condescension in visiting his 
humble roof. The visit took place on 3Oth July 1788. The 
London Packet, or New Lloyds Evening Post of that date 
says : 

" Cheltenham 

" The King and Queen and Princess Royal were at the Wells 
this morning at half after five, and continued until eight. At 
ten their Majesties took an airing on a visit to George Augustus 
Selwyn Esquire, about two miles from Gloucester, where they 
partook of a cold collation, and received the compliments of the 
neighbouring gentry. After taking a view of his elegant park 
and mansion, their Majesties returned to Cheltenham at four." 

The Bath Chronicle of 7th August gives a slightly different 
account : 

"Gloucester, August 4. Tuesday: their Majesties passed again 
through this city, on their way to the seat of George Augustus 
Selwyn Esquire at Matson, where they were entertained in the 
first style of elegance. Their Majesties were delighted with the 
beauty of the scenery from Matson garden, and walked up Robin 
Hood's Hill, through the groves lately improved by Mr Selwyn." 



318 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

The Chronicle also gives us some information about the resi- 
dence of their Majesties at Cheltenham worthy of a modern 
society journal. 

" In the economy of the Royal family at Cheltenham, we 
are informed that Her Majesty has particulary forbidden the 
use of white bread at her own table, not from any parsimonious 
principle, but from conviction of its being less healthy than 
brown." 

It is to be hoped that she allowed her ladies-in-waiting to 
have white if they wanted it. 

This visit took place one hundred and twenty years ago ; 
yet it was seen by a man who lived well into our own time. 
Charles Gibbs, who was born in 1783, and was Clerk of Matson 
from 1835 until his death in 1881, told the present Rector of 
Matson that he well remembered the arrival of George III. at 
Matson. Gibbs said that he climbed an elm-tree near the 
church, and from that coign of vantage watched their Majesties 
drive up the road to Matson House. " I was only a little 
marchant then," he said, using a quaint Gallicism common 
in Gloucestershire. 

Selwyn remained at Matson for some weeks after the King's 
visit, returning to Richmond in October. The following letter 
to Charles Townshend is probably of this year : 

" MATSON 
"8th September [1788] 

" I once more return you a great many thanks for the trouble 
which you have been so good as to give yourself in favour of 
Bishop Blaize for my sake. 

" I have the satisfaction to find by Monseigneur's Letter that 
if he is disappointed he is nevertheless persuaded of my zeal to 
serve him. I hope that he will also as I do, see the reason and 
equity of Lord Sydney's refusal and be at last convinced that 
if the Queen has not interest enough to change the prudent 
and necessary measures of Government much less can I expect 
it. I received your brother's x letter before I left London and 
thanked him for it. I hope that he is persuaded that it is with 
great reluctance that I give him any trouble, and I never should 
have done so, but in a case of this nature. Blake writes me 

1 Lord Sydney. 



LATER YEARS 



319 



word that he is to be at Luggershall the 3rd of next month. I 
should be infinitely happy if you who will probably be there or 
at Whitchurch at the same time, could so far extend your ex- 
cursion from London as to make me a visit : valde cupio quod 
parum spero. I did intend, when I wrote to you last to have 
gone to make a visit to Lord and Lady Carlisle at Down Place 
near Windsor for a fortnight, but hearing that they had 
company I had laid aside the thoughts of it, and I do not 
think now that I shall leave Matson till the I2th of October or 
be in London before the 23rd. 

" Miss L. Selwyn is at Cheltenham but I expect her to return 
here the end of next week. I have seen no company besides 
my neighbours except Mr Andr. Steuart, who came from 
Cheltenham to dine with me, and I have nothing to inform 
you of but of the events of this obscure parish, which I presume 
would not be very interesting to you, so I will trouble you with 
no more than to assure you that I am very truly and affection- 
ately yours. G. S." 

On the iQth of October Walpole writes to Lady Ossory : 
" George is returned to Richmond, and diverted me prodigiously. 
I had foretold that he would bottle up some relict of the royal 
visit, but, as he has more wit than I have prophetic spirit, his 
label to a certain patera of La Reine boit far outwent my 
imagination ; I suppose he told it to Lord Ossory, or showed it 
to him." George's label was apparently not to be quoted in a 
letter to a lady. 

Selwyn, then, came back to Richmond in October 1788. 
On 2nd November he is writing to Lady Carlisle to wish her 
" many happy returns of the day." He does it very prettily. 
" It must seem, my dear Lady Carlisle, very shabby that 
on this day I do not afford a sheet of gilt paper for my 
letter to you, but it is to no purpose giving any other reason 
when I have that to give of having none by me. But truth on 
plain paper is better than compliment without sincerity, with 
all the vignettes which could be found to adorn it, and nothing 
can be truer than that I rejoice at the return of this day, which 
gave birth to what I have on so many accounts reason to value 
and esteem." 

Later on in the year he is very much agitated over the 
insanity of the King. " It is a sad time indeed," said this 
King's man, who had no intention of transferring his affection 



320 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

to the Regent. It was a sad time for Selwyn in other respects. 
He was in poor health, and the record of his life for the next 
two years is a record of constant suffering. But in fact he had 
been more or less of an invalid for many years. In 1780 we 
find him reporting to Carlisle : " I cannot say that I am much 
better, I am only not worse. I have now changed my 
medicines. ... I had three violent fits, as usual, but am this 
morning much easier." He appears to have suffered from gout, 
and also from dropsy ; and, like the rest of humanity, was 
continually subject to coughs and colds. In 1788 these grew 
more frequent and troublesome. " My cough must be attended 
to, or it will increase, and perhaps destroy me." In the follow- 
ing year his health improved, and he led a somewhat busy 
life. " My present state of health requires attention and 
regularity of living," he writes in November 1789. "If these 
are observed, I am assured that after a time I shall be well and 
that my lease for ten or twenty years seems as yet a good one. 
As for the labour and sorrow which His Majesty K. D. speaks 
of, I know of no age that is quite exempt from them." Mean- 
while he had plenty of society at Richmond. " It is no 
solitude, this place" he said. The French emigrants were 
there in large numbers. " If this winter does not make a 
perfect Frenchman of me, I shall give it up." Once his garden 
" was as full as it could hold of foreigners and their children, 
Warenzow's boy and girl, and the Marquis de Cinque Minutes 
[Selwyn " could not tell Lady Carlisle why " the young gentle- 
man had this name] who of all the infants I ever saw, is 
the most completely spoiled for the present. His roars and 
screams if he has not everything which he wants and in an in- 
stant, are enough to split your head. His menace is ' Maman, 
je veux etre bien mediant ce soir, je vous le promets.' " 

The curious thing is that, with all his ailments, Selwyn 
seems never to have lived the life of an invalid ; he kept his 
place in society up to the end. It was Wilberforce who said 
that he continued in it "till he looked really like the wax-work 
figure of a corpse." Thus in one week in August 1790 five 
months before his death he dines with the Duke of Queens- 
berry at Richmond, travels to Fulham "and from thence to 
London," dines with the Duke of Devonshire at Devonshire 
House ( " to meet Mme. de Roncherolles " ), returns to Richmond 



LATER YEARS 321 

" with the Duke of Q. in his coach," and dines at Richmond 
Castle with Madame La Comtesse Balb6 and her French 
friends. But soon after this there is a change. In November 
he writes a pathetic letter to Lady Carlisle with an account 
of his troubles. He is perishing with cold " and the reason is 
plain. ... I have no clothes ; my stockings are of a fine thin 
thread, half of them full of holes; I have no flannel waistcoat, 
which everybody else wears ; in short I have been shivering in the 
warmest room sans sqavoir pourquoi. But yesterday there was 
a committee at the Duke's upon my drapery, and to-day a 
tailor is sent for. I am to be flannelled and cottoned and kept 
alive if possible ; but if that cannot be done, I must be 
embalmed, with my face, mummy-like, only bare, to converse 
through my cerements. ... It is amazing to what a degree I 
am become helpless ; nothing can account for it but extreme 
dotage, or extreme infancy." The last letter in the Carlisle 
correspondence is significant. " Sir L. Pepys was with me in 
the morning and thought my pulse very quiet, which could only 
have been from the fatigue of the day before juste Dieu ! 
fatigue of going eight or nine miles, my legs on the foreseat 
and reposing my head on Jones's shoulder. . . . Sir Lucas 
pronounced no immediate end of myself, but that I should 
continue the bark, with hemlock. I'll do anything for some 
time longer, but my patience will, I see, after a certain time 
be exhausted." This was on pth December 1790. Selwyn 
returned to London shortly before Christmas, in a very serious 
condition of health. On 25th January Walpole writes to Miss 
Berry : " I am on the point of losing or have lost, my oldest 
acquaintance and friend, George Selwyn, who was yesterday at 
the extremity . . . him I really loved, not only for his infinite 
wit, but for a thousand good qualities." In fact this was the 
day of Selwyn's death. He died at his house in Cleveland 
Court on 25th January 1791, in his seventy-second year, and 
was buried in the family vault at Matson. Curiously enough, 
no tablet or monument of any kind has been erected to his 
memory. 

The newspapers and periodicals of the day contain charac- 
teristic notices of George Selwyn's death. On 26th January 
The Morning Chronicle said : " Yesterday died at his house, 
St James's Place, George Augustus Selwyn, Esq., of facetious 



322 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

memory. His estates with his diminished interest in the 
borough of Ludgershall devolve on the Right Hon. Lord 
Sydney. His personalities, and a very large sum of money, 
he has left to a natural daughter, whom he had by the Italian 
singer, Signora Faniani. The places of Surveyor of Crown 
Lands, Surveyor of the Meltings and Clerk of the Irons at the 
Mint etc., are vacant by Mr Selwyn's death, to which might be 
added the post of Receiver-General of Weft [i.e. waif] and 
Stray Jokes." On the next day the Chronicle hastened to 
correct its reference to Mie Mie. " The lady to whom the 
late George Selwyn has left nearly ; 100,000 is the daughter 
of the Marquis and Marchioness de Faniani, one of the most 
respectable families in Milan." It also amplifies its obituary 
notice in the following manner : " The late George Selwyn 
of facetious memory, besides possessing real and personal 
property to a considerable amount, and several very valuable 
places under government, was Lord of the Manor of Bon Mot, 
to whom the right of all Waifs and Strays belonged. We 
do not find that any notice is taken of this Manor in his Will ; 
but he has been heard to say : Detur digniori" It would not, 
perhaps, have been difficult to find a dignior person for this 
particular lordship. Notices similar to that of the Chronicle 
appeared in The Public Advertiser, The London Chronicle and The 
St James's Chronicle, and the " Waif and Stray " joke was 
repeated faithfully by them all, for that was an age when 
journalists wrote the same paragraph for many journals, some- 
what in the manner of the modern news syndicate. The 
Gentleman's Magazine for January 1791 records Selwyn's death 
very much in the words of the Chronicle, but adds a considerable 
wealth of detail. " He was highly qualified for this sphere 
[" fashionable circles "] being possessed of much classical know- 
ledge, a brilliant wit, good humour, and a considerable share 
of observation. He therefore was soon noticed as a wit and a 
bon vivant, and divided with the late Lord Chesterfield most of 
the good things of their times. Mr Selwyn took care not to be 
ruined by his wit (as has been the case with others) he had 
'pudding as well as praise,' being in possession of several 
advantageous places, which he enjoyed under several ad- 
ministrations, without the least hindrance, . . . His places 
being mostly sinecures, which enabled him to enjoy the otium 



LATER YEARS 323 

cum dignitate, which he did with singular advantage to himself 
and his friends. Amongst the latter he will be long lamented 
as the centre of good humour, wit and conviviality." The same 
thought was perhaps more elegantly expressed in one of the 
newspapers. " Among the good things of George Selwyn," 
says this writer, "may be reckoned several places which he 
enjoyed under Government. In order to contribute to public 
entertainment it no doubt is of advantage to consult private com- 
fort. Of wit as well as of love it may be remarked, sine Baccho 
et cerere friget" The Gentleman's, however, goes on : " He died 
very much in the bosom of the church, having the Bible read 
to him constantly during the whole of his illness. For some 
years past he had been afflicted with the gout and dropsy, 
the usual disorders of bon vivants ; and about this time last 
year he had so severe an attack that his life was despaired of 
by the faculty, and his death was several times announced in 
the public papers. After his recovery from that illness he was 
remarkably well for some months, and had as few infirmities 
as most men of his years : but in the autumn his complaint 
returned, and when he was brought to town a few days before 
Christmas Day, he expressed his belief that this would be fatal 
to him." 

Mr Jesse's gloss upon this account of Selwyn's last days is 
that he "died penitent." This is a little hard upon that most 
religious of wits. In fact George was an attached member 
of the Church of England, and his theological views, if not 
quite orthodox, were at least eminently characteristic of the 
British layman. Once he commended a certain Dr M'Clean 
for his answer to an atheistical work by Mr Soame Jenyns. 
" Nothing struck me in my cursory view of it," Selwyn wrote, 
" but his judgment in not proposing the mediatorial scheme as 
one to be proved by demonstration, but submitting the reason- 
ableness of the proposition to the candour of the world " ; 
a criticism which Matthew Arnold himself might have signed. 
"The endeavour to prove too much has made more Atheists 
than any book wrote on purpose to establish Infidelity. . . . 
I wish a man to satisfy me about his morals, without which 
his talking of his honour is a jest. When his morals are un- 
impeached, I will take his Religion as I find it." There is 
fundamental good sense in this, whether we entirely agree with 



324 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

it or not. But Selwyn said one wise thing about religion with 
which we can all agree. Speaking of young Frederick Howard, 
he said : " I hope he will, besides being a very moral and 
honourable man, be a good Christian, but not a solemn one, 
qui rendroit sa piet6 suspecte." It is in casual remarks of this 
kind, rather than in traditional and hackneyed witticisms, that 
one discerns the native good sense of George Selwyn. 

After some extracts from Selwyn's will, the Gentleman's 
notice continues : " But who will be the heir of all the stray wit 
about town, hitherto said to be his, we cannot so readily decide. 
Many good things he did say, and many he was capable of 
saying ; but the number of good, bad, or indifferent things 
attributed to him as bon mots for the last thirty years of his 
life was sufficient to stock a Foundling Hospital for Wit." Then 
we have a long account of Selwyn's alleged fondness for execu- 
tions, an account vigorously replied to in the April number of 
the Magazine by (as is probable) Dr John Warner. Both these 
articles have been dealt with in a previous chapter. The April 
number contains a verse upon Selwyn, probably also from 
Warner's prolific pen : 

" If this gay favourite lost, they yet can live, 
A tear to Selwyn let the Graces give ! 
With rapid kindness teach Oblivion's pall 
O'er the sunk foibles of the man to fall ; 
And fondly dictate to a faithful Muse 
The prime distinctness of the friend they lose. 
'Twas social wit, which, never kindling strife, 
Blazed in the small, sweet, courtesies of life. 
These little sapphires round the diamond shone, 
Lending soft radiance to the richer stone." 

Reference has been made to George Selwyn's will, which is 
dated i ith June 1788, and which was proved on the I2th February 
1791, by the Earl of Carlisle and Mr Elborough Woodcock 
(Selwyn's solicitor), the other executor, the Marquis of Stafford, 
not administering. Selwyn left to " Maria Ffagnani, daughter 
of the Marquis and Marchioness Ffagnani," for her absolute use 
at the age of twenty-one, or on her marriage with consent before 
that age, "the sum of 10,000 in 4 per cent, annuities" ; but if 
she married without consent before that age, she was only to 



LATER YEARS 325 

have the interest paid to her and not the capital. In addition 
to this, Miss Ffagnani was to receive ^20,000 from Selwyn's 
personal estate, at twenty-one or marriage ; and a sum of ,3000 
was to be paid to her at the age of eighteen, if she were then in 
England. On failure of these gifts they were to go to the 
younger children of Lord Carlisle, and the Duke of Queensberry 
was made general residuary legatee. There were three codicils 
to the will, the first leaving an annuity to Mrs Webb, Mie Mie's 
nurse, the second confirming Ludgershall to Lord Sydney, and 
the third giving an annuity of 50 a year to Pierre Michalin, 
Selwyn's valet, who appears to have predeceased him. The 
leasehold house at Richmond was directed to be let or sold ; the 
house in Cleveland Court and the Matson estate were both, of 
course, settled property, and are not mentioned in the will. 



CHAPTER XVI 

GEORGE SELWYN AND HIS TIMES 

THE late Mr Abraham Hayward, in his agreeable essay 
upon George Selwyn, contrasts the manners and 
morals of the eighteenth century with those of his 
own time, very much to the disadvantage of the eighteenth 
century. " The comparison," says he, with that inimitable air 
of complacency so easily assumed by early-Victorian writers, 
"is highly satisfactory. . . . No Prime Minister escorts a 
woman of the town through the Crush room of the Opera ; no 
first lord of the Admiralty permits his mistress to do the 
honours of his house, or weeps over her in the columns of The 
Morning Post; no Lord of the Bedchamber starts for New- 
market with a danseuse in his carriage, and her whole family in 
his train ; our parliamentary leaders do not dissipate their best 
energies at the gaming-table ; our privy councillors do not 
attend cock rights ; and, among the many calumnies levelled 
at our public men, they have not been accused (as General 
Burgoyne was by Junius) of lying in wait for inexperienced 
lads to plunder at play." And so on, and so on. " The im- 
provement in the female aristocracy is not less certain." The 
"female aristocracy" of Mr Hay ward's day, it appears, were 
nothing like so naughty as the ladies whom Selwyn knew ; the 
"practice of gambling" ("fraught with the worst consequences 
to the finest feelings and best qualities of the sex ") was not so 
prevalent, nor could any early-Victorian Walpole fill his letters 
with allusions to " matrimonial infidelity." Thus the good 
Hayward wagged his head virtuously at the misdeeds of 
English society in the time of Mr Selwyn, and thanked his 
gods that things were so much better, and brighter, and nobler, 
and purer, in his own year of grace. 

And was Mr Hayward wrong ? asks somebody. Was there 
no improvement in the manners and morals of English society 
between the year 1791, when Selwyn died, and the year 1845, 
when Hayward wrote his essay? Well, that question is not, 

326 



GEORGE SELWYN AND HIS TIMES 327 

as lawyers say when writing their opinions, entirely free from 
difficulty ; but we must hope that Mr Hayward was right in 
the main, and that there was really and truly an improvement 
in society manners and morals in that half century. But com- 
parisons of the Hayward kind are very fallacious, and very 
Pharisaical, too (only we must forgive the Pharisaism when we 
remember that it was the custom of early-Victorian writers and 
orators and statesmen to declare that never before was England 
so prosperous, pure, perfect, etc., as she was in that golden time). 
But they are fallacious. It is true, for example, that Court life 
under Queen Victoria was purer and cleaner than Court life 
under George II.; but it was hardly purer and cleaner than 
Court life under George III., who was a somewhat stern 
moralist. Again, Mr Hayward refers to the Duke of Grafton 
and Nancy Parsons, but he must have known that the action of 
the Duke in bringing Miss Parsons to the opera was very much 
reprobated at the time, and gave great offence at Court The 
Sandwiches, Weymouths and Rigbys were no doubt a most 
disreputable crew ; but then they were considered a most 
disreputable crew by their contemporaries. If we come to 
examine the matter, have we ever had a more ascetic Prime 
Minister than Mr Pitt, a more upright statesman than Mr 
Burke, a finer gentleman at the head of affairs than the Marquis 
of Rockingham ? In short, society in the time of Mr Selwyn 
was good, and bad, and indifferent, just as it was in the time of 
Mr Hayward, and just as it is to-day. The only thing we can 
affirm is that public opinion which hardly existed in the 
eighteenth century is now strong enough to keep the bad 
man out of public life unless he carefully conceals his bad- 
ness. And I think we can also say that in certain directions 
we have improved upon our forefathers. We do not drink so 
much ; our play at cards is not quite so reckless ; we have 
a somewhat sensitive social conscience. But let us say this 
in all humility, and not in the manner of Mr Hayward. Are 
we quite sure that we are so very much better than the 
Georgian people? Ask the President of the Probate, Divorce 
and Admiralty Division what he thinks about it ; the 
undefended lists in his court have been remarkably heavy 
of late. None of us has probably ever seen either hazard, 
or faro, or quinze played in this country ; but we have 



328 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

all heard astonishing stories of losses at bridge ; and Monte 
Carlo is quite a modern institution. We cannot discuss the 
interesting question suggested by the Grafton-Parsons anec- 
dote ; yet are we credibly informed and believe that ladies of 
the type of Miss Nancy Parsons still exist, and are sometimes 
to be encountered within the sacred frontiers of what is called 
"smart" society. Let us admit ungrudgingly, however, and 
without mental reservation of any sort or kind, that our public 
life at least is pure, and that a Grafton, a Sandwich, or a Rigby, 
would be absolutely impossible to-day. So much has been 
accomplished by shall we say? the School Board and the 
ballot-box. Again, are we quite sure that, supposing for a 
moment we have gained in some directions, we have not lost in 
others ? We are apt to forget the good of the past, and to 
remember only the evil. For, after all, humanity finds it difficult 
to make a general ethical advance in line. Here a brigade 
marches boldly forward, and plants a flag upon some promin- 
ence hitherto unoccupied ; but there another brigade wavers, is 
broken, falls back in confusion to the old position, and even 
yields that to the enemy. Thus, to make a little comparison of 
our own (and to escape from our military metaphor, which is 
handled with some civilian awkwardness), if we no longer toler- 
ate open licence, we are compelled to tolerate the vulgarity of 
excessive wealth shamefully acquired ; if a faro bank in St 
James's Street is no longer considered a gentleman-like method 
of earning a living, there is no such objection lodged against 
the promotion of doubtful companies in the city. And what 
are our losses ? Were there no graces and virtues in that old 
patrician society of the eighteenth century which vanished with 
it? Of course there were. In fact there have been found 
persons bold enough to say that England has never seen a 
society so distinguished, so pleasant, so brilliant and witty and 
cheerful, as that which flourished in this country in the earlier 
part of the reign of George III. Granted that it was aristo- 
cratic, limited, inelastic ; that it frowned upon genius, unless it 
appeared wrapped in purple ; still, within these limits, you had 
(say these bold persons) an almost ideal society. "Without 
any disparagement," observes Mr Thomas Moore, " of the many 
and useful talents which are at present nowhere more conspicu- 
ous than in the upper ranks of society, it may be owned that 



GEORGE SELWYN AND HIS TIMES 329 

for wit, social powers, and literary accomplishments, the political 
men of the period under consideration [1780] formed such an 
assemblage as it would be flattery to say that our own times 
can parallel. The natural tendency of the French Revolution 
was to produce in the higher classes of England an increased 
reserve of manner, and of course a proportionate restraint on all 
within their circle, which have been fatal to conviviality and 
humour, and not very propitious to wit subduing both manners 
and conversation to a sort of polished level, to rise above which 
is often thought almost as vulgar as to sink below it." In other 
words, the early Victorians were dull dogs compared with their 
fathers the Georgians. That is the opinion of Thomas Moore, 
who was only, however, a literary man. But here is Lady 
Susan O'Brien (that heroine of a runaway match) writing in 
1818 only twenty years or so before Mr Hay ward and com- 
plaining, not that society was growing better, but that it was 
growing worse ; and Lady Susan knew what she was writing 
about. She is comparing 1760 with 1818. " Theatres . . . 
were well regulated . . . every lady went to her box without 
interruption or offence, and returned equally safe, whether 
attended or otherwise. . . . Now ladies of character can't go 
to the Play without gentlemen to take care of them, to guard 
them . . . people are liable to see and hear very improper things 
. . . Manners. Great civility was general in all ranks. . . . 
Now there is a certain rudeness and carelessness of manners 
affected both by men and women. . . . Character a woman of 
doubtful character was shy'd ; if bad, decidedly avoided. 
Now, the very worst are countenanced by many. It is difficult 
to say where any line is drawn," etc. etc. So much for the 
differences of opinion about society in the early nineteenth 
century. And if we should carry on the story to the early 
twentieth century, we should have the same differences of 
opinion ; we should have our Haywards to declare that we are 
vastly more moral and respectable than our ancestors, and our 
Lady Susan O'Briens to declare that we are a sadly degenerate 
race ; and both, perhaps, would be right. But in which society 
would you prefer to move : in a society such as that of Selwyn's 
day, in which you might meet men like Pitt and Fox, Burke, 
Sheridan, Gibbon, Reynolds, George Selwyn and Horace 
Walpole, or in the society of to-day, in which you would 



330 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

certainly meet well, a number of very interesting and worthy 
men and women? The answer to that question is not con- 
clusive as to the goodness or badness of the two societies ; but 
it has some bearing upon the claims of the present to an ab- 
solute superiority over the past. 

Society, then, may be better or worse than it was in the 
time of George Selwyn ; we can reach no sound conclusion in 
the matter (though we may trust the larger hope) ; nor is it of 
any great importance that we should. Essentially society is 
the same as it always was : that is to say, it is composed of men 
and women who have leisure, money, birth perhaps, education 
perhaps, and whose principal object in life is to enjoy it. For 
this reason Selwyn would probably find himself very much at 
home if he could revisit his haunts in Mayfair. We still have 
society ; but have we a George Selwyn to entertain it withal, 
to dine with it and wine with it, to fabricate its jests, and carry 
them when fabricated from booth to booth ? The answer must 
clearly be in the negative. We have no George Selwyn, nor 
are we likely to have. In the first place, society is too big. 
In Selwyn's day it was a small and exclusive corporation, in 
which everybody knew everybody else. You could not have 
bought your way into that corporation ; you must have been 
born into it. Remember the story of Selwyn and the self-made 
man. " Sir," said this person, stopping Selwyn in St James's 
Street, " do you not know me ? " "I do not, sir," replied 
Selwyn contemptuously. " Well, Mr Selwyn, you knew me at 
Bath." " I daresay, sir, and when I meet you in Bath again I 
shall be pleased to resume the acquaintance. In the meantime 
I have the honour to wish you good-morning." Wealth with- 
out birth knocked in vain at those sacred portals. And being 
a small corporation, society cherished the wit of one of its 
members as a family cherishes the wit of a younger son : not 
for the intrinsic value of the wit, but because it is the produc- 
tion of Bobby or Tommy. But now society is a monstrous 
thing ; a multitude whom no man can number ; a vast and 
undefined territory, over the boundaries of which adventurers 
from unknown lands are constantly making their way. It is 
obviously impossible for one man to dominate such a region. 
Famous at the circumference, he might be frowned upon at the 
centre ; welcomed boisterously in one circle, he might be asked 



GEORGE SELWYN AND HIS TIMES 331 

to show his card in another. In such an environment the finest 
wit will evaporate, even as the humour and the literature of a 
great dramatist evaporate when presented upon a stage too 
large by half for the play. 

But we have no Selwyn now, nor have we had for over a 
hundred years. In fact Selwyn was the last of the wits, the 
last of his race. You cannot put a later wit, such as Sydney 
Smith, in quite the same class with Selwyn. Smith was a 
cleric and a man of letters ; he spoke to a wider audience than 
the other. And so with Lamb, Hood, Douglas Jerrold and the 
rest of the literary wits of the early nineteenth century. These 
men moved in a different world from Selwyn's : the world of 
Bohemia, which was separated by an unfathomable gulf from 
the world of Mayfair. I am not aware that Selwyn ever 
crossed that gulf, as Topham Beauclerk did, except when he 
visited Sir Joshua Reynolds's studio in St Martin's Lane or 
Leicester Fields. But in any case, the Victorian wits were not 
the true successors of George Selwyn. Elijah dropped his 
mantle, but no Elisha picked it up. With the coming of the 
nineteenth century, and the decline and fall of the patricians, 
the office of Society Jester, like that of Court Jester in older 
days, seems entirely to have disappeared. One reason for its 
disappearance has already been advanced. We are also told 
by some authorities that its disappearance is due to our more 
liberal culture and education. We have no society wits now, it 
is said, because the society wit of the eighteenth century was a 
small, poor, thing. Our forefathers were not difficult to please 
in the matter of humour ; they cannot have been, if they laughed 
at George Selwyn's jokes. But since then the schoolmaster has 
been abroad in the land. Thanks say these modern Hay- 
wards to the spread of education, to the dissemination of 
classical literature by means of that mighty instrument of pro- 
gress, the printing press, and to the inestimable privileges of 
free institutions, we have at length evolved in our modern 
society a genuine sense of humour : we really do know what to 
laugh at, and what to refrain from laughing at. 

But this argument will not bear examination for a moment. 
If our ancestors laughed at the witticisms of George Selwyn, it 
must have been because there was something to laugh at, even 
if it were only a trick of expression or of speech. Far from 



332 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

being deficient in the comic sense the society of the eighteenth 
century possessed it in a high degree. They ought to have 
done so, because the conditions laid down by Mr Meredith for 
the existence of the comic spirit were fulfilled : it was a small, 
cultivated society, in which women moved on an entire equality 
with men. But the best way of convincing ourselves that we 
have not improved upon the eighteenth century in respect of 
humour is to compare the comedies of that century with the 
comedies of to-day, the letters of that century with the letters 
of to-day, or even the literature of that century (I speak more 
particularly of Sterne) with the literature of to-day. In a word, 
if we have no society wits in the twentieth century it is not 
because we have a finer sense of humour than our fathers had : 
it is because there has been some organic change in society. 
Or we may put the matter on quite simple and inexpugnable 
ground by affirming that we have no George Selwyn to-day for 
the same reason that we have no Shakespeare, no Keats, no 
Dickens, no Thackeray, no Tennyson : because such men are 
not being born ; Nature is busy producing other types. 

But it is true that Selwyn was not in any high degree a wit : 
neither was he a man of letters. Like another fine gentleman, 
Mr Horace Walpole, he despised the trade : but, unlike Wai- 
pole, he would not himself have made a respectable tradesman. 
He never wrote a line for publication in his life. Only one 
published verse has been attributed to him, and that is trivial, 
besides being too indelicate for modern ears. His letters, as 
we have seen, entirely lack the literary touch. Selwyn was not 
really interested in literature and, during most of his life, read, 
as he observed, men rather than books. " I have been years 
without looking in a book, and God knows in my long life how 
few I have read." Rollin was the first author he read by choice. 
" I had scarce ever read three pages of any book, besides my 
school book, when that work was put into my hands for my 
amusement. I read it three times over by choice." Judging 
other authors by Rollin, he found them sadly wanting. At the 
age of sixty-two he made a fresh plunge into literature and 
bought Johnson's " Lives of the Poets." " I repent of it already," 
he says, " but I have read but one, which is Prior's. There are 
few anecdotes, and those not well authenticated : his criticisms 
on his poems, false and absurd, and the prettiest things which 



GEORGE SELWYN AND HIS TIMES 333 

he has wrote passed over in silence." Only one genuine 
literary enthusiasm Selwyn seems to have had, that for the 
letters of Madame de Sevigne\ How far this was an attach- 
ment to literature and how far a mere following of the fashion 
of the time (it was an age of SeVigne worship) one can hardly 
now tell ; no doubt the peculiar gifts of the French writer her 
shrewd common-sense, her vivacity, her worldly wisdom 
appealed to Selwyn. It is to be remarked that this most un- 
literary wit dared to dogmatise about style. " Parsons, Uni- 
versity men, and Templars," said he, " r envoy ent bien loin la 
simplicite, and when they would talk agreeably or write to 
obtain approbation, give you such a hash of all their reading 
and such quaint compliments as make me sick " ; and else- 
where he enlarges again upon the virtue of simplicity. Well, 
simplicity in style is certainly a virtue ; but it is the simplicity 
of art of the careful and deliberate, but not too deliberate, 
choice of words which is a virtue, and not the natural sim- 
plicity of the man who writes down, as Selwyn did, the first 
thing that comes into his head. 

Selwyn, again, was no scholar ; his career at Oxford was not 
the best preparation for scholarship; but, again following a 
fashion of the time, he had at least a bowing acquaintance with 
the classics. For the eighteenth-century fine gentleman, with 
all his love for wine, women, and cards, had a profound respect for 
the great writers of antiquity. His education was not complete 
until he had learned by heart a few of the principal passages in 
Horace and Virgil, which he could himself declaim in an 
occasional speech in the House of Commons, or recognise 
when declaimed in a speech by Mr Pitt or Mr Burke. This 
honest devotion to something which he very imperfectly under- 
stood, but the value of which he recognised dimly, was a very 
pleasing feature in the character of the fine gentleman. Selwyn 
had it quite unmistakably. How he picked up his knowledge 
of the classics one hardly knows ; it may have been at Eton ; 
it was certainly not at Oxford. He was sufficiently interested, 
however, in classical learning to carry on a controversy with 
Lord Bolingbroke as to the virtue and the vice prevalent 
among the Romans. " Lord Bolingbroke believes Mr Selwyn 
will allow there was some degree of vice among the Romans 
during that period so wonderful for its virtues. If he will look 



into lib. XL. cap. 43 of Livy, he will there see that, between 
the first and the end of the second Punic War, the practice of 
poisoning was so common, that during part of a season a 
praetor punished capitally for that crime above three thousand 
persons in one part of Italy, and found informations of this sort 
multiplying upon him. In lib. VIII. cap. 18 of Livy, Mr 
Selwyn will find a similar, or rather worse, instance in the more 
early times of that virtuous commonwealth. So depraved in 
private life were that people whom in their histories we are 
taught so much to admire ! Do not these facts seem to denote 
vice enough at that period for me to doubt a little the pro- 
priety of your observation That so great was the virtue and so 
trifling the vice of it as to make the history of that age appear 
fabulous?" It was indeed a difficult thesis to sustain. But it 
is a charming picture: George "looking into" Livy (lib. VIII. 
cap. 1 8) for the purpose of finding a flaw in the argument of his 
friend " Bully." The only thing to be said is that we cannot 
imagine a modern George and Bully carrying on this admirable 
discussion ; our young men are not equipped for it. Selwyn 
knew enough Latin in his old age to " read a little Latin poem 
upon a Mouse Trap, with which I was most highly delighted ; 
wrote near a century ago, by a Mr Holdsworth." But when 
Mr Sylvanus Urban states that Selwyn was " possessed of much 
classical knowledge" we must respectfully beg for once to 
differ from that eminent authority. 

Not wit, not scholarship, but a vigorous shrewd sense was 
George Selwyn's dominant personal characteristic. This was 
an inherited quality with Selwyn ; but he improved and 
sharpened it by living much in society and in the world. He 
was emphatically a man who " warmed both hands at the fire 
of life," and even remained at the fireside until the ashes were 
cold. But he knew men, cities, manners, customs, morals ; 
he gathered a rare harvest of worldly wisdom in his pilgrimage 
of seventy years. His wisdom and his shrewdness he placed 
freely at the disposal of his friends ; hence, perhaps, the number 
and variety of his friendships. As you may measure the great- 
ness of Johnson by the fact that Edmund Burke was proud to 
know and to serve him, and again, as you may measure the great- 
ness of Burke by the fact that he was the only man in that time 
of great men of whom Johnson always spoke with respect and 



GEORGE SELWYN AND HIS TIMES 335 

even with reverence, so you may measure the real worth of 
George Selwyn by the fact that so many men of widely differ- 
ing types competed for his friendship. Men of affairs, like Lord 
Holland, of pleasure, like the Duke of Queensberry, of literature 
and taste, like Horace Walpole, of society, like the Earl of 
Carlisle, they were all proud to call Selwyn friend. And not 
for his wit and wisdom only ; they recognised his essential 
goodness of heart and kindness of disposition. His genuine 
love for children is a final and convincing proof that he 
possessed these qualities. If they were crossed by a certain 
sombreness, by a strain of peevish melancholy, which gave rise 
to the foolish fable of his " fondness for executions," that must be 
put down in part, at least, to indifferent health. That there 
was nothing essentially evil in George Selwyn is again proved 
absolutely by the fact that he loved, and was loved by, little 
children. 

Whatever were the qualities of George Selwyn and it is 
not claimed that he was very much more than a perfectly 
normal and ordinary Englishman (if such a being has ever 
existed) he remains at least a figure entirely typical of his 
time and of his class. He was first and always a patrician, 
with the pride and the prejudices of the patricians strongly 
developed. His virtues and his vices were the virtues and the 
vices of his class ; he never strayed far outside the boundaries 
of St James's ; his place is with the others in Vanity Fair. 
Sometimes, in wandering through those sacred streets and 
squares in the west, one comes upon an ancient Georgian 
house, with its warm mellow brick-work, fronted by dingy 
iron railings, upon which are the stands where the flares were 
put, and the cups in which the link-boys extinguished their 
torches. With but little imagination you can picture such 
a house filled with company, as it must often have been filled, 
on an evening when George III. was King: the ladies in 
their extravagant flowered gowns and high-dressed hair, the 
gentlemen in their velvet coats, lace ruffles, satin breeches 
and stockings, wigs and swords. After a night of cards and 
scandal and wine, the company breaks up, crowding to the 
door ; link-boys light their torches, and run hither and thither ; 
sedan chairmen waken from their slumbers, expectant of vails ; 
flunkeys shout for carriages ; there is a general uproar and 



330 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 

confusion. In the midst of it all there is a cry of " Mr Selwyn's 
carriage ! " and from the crowd of revellers at the door a man 
emerges and comes slowly down the steps : a man with a 
parchment face, and grey hair showing under his bob-wig. He 
enters the carriage, waves his hand to the people at the door, 
who are laughing heartily at something which he has just been 
saying, and drives off into the night. We cannot follow him ; 
he disappears in the darkness ; and, even as we linger, the 
whole scene shifts and changes. The crowd melts away before 
our eyes ; the fine ladies and gentlemen, the torches, link-boys, 
chairmen, flunkeys, vanish utterly : nothing is left but an old 
shabby house in a shabby street. Yet, pondering on those 
days, which still touch with romance the London brick and 
mortar, we remember that among the men and women who 
belonged to them, and who come out of the shadows at our 
call, few personalities are more attractive, and none is more 
typical, than that of George Selwyn, the Last of the Wits. 



INDEX 



ADAM, the brothers, 293 
Addison, Joseph, I, in 
Almack's, afterwards Brooks's. See 

Brooks's 

America, Commissioners to, 275 
American War, 237, 257 
Annual Register, 304 
" Apology " (Colley Gibber), 312 

BALMERINO, sixth Baron, trial and 

execution of, 131-134 
Barthe'lemy, 1'Abbe, 188, 219 
Bath Chronicle, quoted, 317, 318 
Batheaston, 288 
Beauclerk, Topham, 189, 289 
Bettenson, Richard, 13, 15 
Bolingbroke, Lord (Frederick St 

John), 269 

Lord (Henry St John), I, 112 
" Bore," first use of, 273 
Boufflers, Madame de, 189 
Brooks's, 285, 286, 287, 289, 291-295, 

301 

Budgell, Eustace, in 

Bunbury, Lady Sarah, 108, 195, 270, 
271, 294 

Burke, Edmund, 170, 173, 280, 293 

Burnet, Gilbert, 313 

Byron, George Gordon, Lord, 273, 
275, 277-278; "English Bards and 
Scotch Reviewers," 277; "Hours 
of Idleness," 277 ; quarrel with Lord 
Carlisle, 277-278 ; " Childe Harold," 
278 

CARLISLE, Frederick, fifth Earl of, Sel- 
wyn's executor, vii. , 324 ; letters to, 
171, 172, 303, 304 ; in Paris, 192 ; his 
children, 203, 215, 325 ; Treasurer of 
the Household, 210 ; Commissioner 
to America, 216, 242, 245, 275 ; his 
friendship with Selwyn, 270, 273, 
274 ; " Ode on Death of Gray," 276; 
The Stepmother, 276 ; The Father's 
Revenge, 276 ; quarrel with Byron, 
277-278 ; mentioned, 66, 232, 280, 
281, 283, 284, 287, 288 

Lady, 220, 221, 222, 224, 236, 242, 
245 

Isabella, Countess of, 305 
Caroline of Anspach, 16 



Castle Howard, Walpole at, 104 ; 

Selwyn at, 215 
"Castle of Otranto, The" (Horace 

Walpole), 101 
Charles I. at Matson, 21 
Charles II. at Matson, 21 
Chatham, first Earl of, I, 173, 229 
Chesterfield, fourth Earl of, I, 112-113 
"Childe Harold" (Byron), 278 
Chislehurst, birthplace of Selwyn, 1 1 
Choiseul, Duchesse de, 187, 195 
Cibber, Colley, 63, 64; "Apology," 

312 
Cleveland Court, Selwyn's town house 

in, 11, 17, 305, 306, 314 
Clive, Robert, Baron, 272 
Clubs in eighteenth century, 61, 62, 291- 

304 

Combe, W., "The Diaboliad," 142 
Congreve, William, I 
Corn, price of, 298, 299 
Cornelys, Mrs, 291 
Cornwallis, Lord, 257 
Coventry, Lady Anne, 74-76, 203 

Barbara, Countess of, 74-76 

sixth Earl of, 75, 76 

Maria, Countess of, 74 
Crawford, James ("Fish"), 192, 193, 

289 
Cromarty, third Earl of, his trial, 131- 

132 
Cromwell, Oliver, 314 

DAMIBNS, execution of, 125-128 

Deffand, Madame du, and Walpole, 
191, 192, 193, 194, 195; her 
opinion of Selwyn, 193, 201, 202^ 
204 ; her friendship with Selwyn, 
'95> *96 ; death, 202 ; mentioned, 
101, 102, 103, 106, 184, 185-189, 
196, 197, 198, 199, 200, 201, 202, 
219, 252, 253, 258, 264 

"Diaboliad, The" (W. Combe), 142- 
144 

Dodd, Dr William, execution of, 139-141 

D'Olbach, Baron, 184 

EDGECUMBB, Richard, 73, 84-86 ; 

friendship with Selwyn, 85, 86 
England in the eighteenth century, 2-4, 

5-10 ; economic condition, 297-300 ; 

morals, 326-336 



337 



338 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 



"English Bards and Scotch 

Reviewers" (Bryon), 277 
Eton, Selwyn at, 23-25 
Executions in the eighteenth century, 

135-136 

FAGNANI, Marchioness (mother of 
" Mie Mie"), 204, 205, 206, 
207, 208, 213, 214, 225, 263, 264 

Maria ("Mie Mie"), Selwyn's 
affection for, 203, 204, 264, 267 ; 
adopted by Selwyn, 204-206 ; 
parentage, 204-206 ; education in 
London, 207 ; return to parents, 
207-209, 212-215 ; at Milan, 224- 
246 passim ; returns to Selwyn, 256, 
258 ; education in Paris, 259, 260, 
262, 263 ; at Richmond, 265-267, 
308-3 14 passim ; portrait by Romney, 
267 ; marriage, 268 ; later life, 268 ; 
mentioned, 157, 159, 163, 21 1, 
250, 251, 252, 253, 254, 255, 261, 
307, 322, 324, 325 

Marquis, 225, 264 
" Farrington's," II 
Farrington, General, 15 

Theodosia, 12, 15 

Father's Revenge (Earl of Carlisle), 276 
Permian, Count, 212, 213, 226, 227, 245 
Fielding, Henry, i; "Tom Jones," 

5, 312 ; " Joseph Andrews," 6 
Fitzgerald, Edward, quoted, 7-8 
Fitzgerald, Lord Edward, quoted, 9 
Fitzpatrick, " Dick," 289 
"Four Georges, The "(Thackeray), 

4,279 
Fox, Charles James, wit of, no; 

friendship with Selwyn, 279-287 ; 

mentioned, 173, 196, 232 and note, 

233, 262, 269, 270, 293, 294, 295, 296 
Fox, Henry, See Holland, first Baron 

Stephen, 296, 302 
Frognal, 19 

GAINSBOROUGH, Duchess of, 221 

Thomas, 214 
Gambling, 59-60, 291-304 
Garrick, David, 293 
Gay, John, in 

Gentleman's Afagatine, quoted, 125, 
126, 127, 138, 322-323, 324 

Geoffrin, Madame, 184, 185, 191, 196 

George III., bon-mot of, 125; at 
Matson, 317-318; insanity of, 319; 
mentioned, 315, 316 

" George Selwyn and His Contempor- 
aries " (J. H. Jesse), vii. 

" George Selwyn : His Letters and His 
Life " (Roscoe and Clergue), ix. 

Gibbon, Edward, 191, 292, 293 



Gloucester, elections at, 152-161 ; 
Selwyn member for, 152-161 ; Sel- 
wyn's quarrel with Council of, 161- 
162 

Gordon, Lord George, member for 
Ludgershall, 162 

Grafton, third Duke of, 170, 326, 327, 
328 

Gray, Thomas, I, 23, 24 

Grignan, Selwyn at, 247, 248, 249, 252 

Grimm, Baron von, quoted, 127, 128 

HACK MAN, Rev. James, murderer of 

Miss Ray, 128, 129, 130 
Hare, James, 289 
Hayward, Abraham, Essay on George 

Selwyn, 326, 327 
Heidegger, John James, 68, 69 
Helvetius, 184 
H6nault, Charles Francois, 186, 196, 

197 

Hinchinbroke, Lord, 222, 223 
" Historic Doubts on Richard the 

Third " (Horace Walpole), 104 
Hogarth, William, pictures of, 4, 5 
Holland, first Baron, 87, 124, 189, 190, 

232, 233, 244, 270, 271, 280, 281, 

282, 283, 284, 303 

Lady, wife of first Baron Holland, 

283, 284 

Lady, wife of Stephen, second 
Baron Holland, 214, 238 and note, 
245, 252, 253 

Holland House, 281 

" Hours of Idleness" (Byron), 277, 

Howard, Frederick, death of, 278 ; 
mentioned, 324 

Hume, David, controversy with Rous- 
seau, 194; mentioned, 179, 191, 293 

JAMBS II. at Matson, 21 

Jesse, J. H., Selwyn's letters published 

by, vii. 
Johnson, Samuel, I, 31, 189, 190, 276 

(quoted), 289, 293 
"Joseph Andrews" (Fielding), 6 

KENNEDY, Matthew and Patrick, trial 

of, 136-139 
Kilmarnock, fourth Earl of, his trial 

and execution, 130-134 
Kingsgate, Lord Holland's seat at, 233 

and note, 244 
Kingston, Duchess of, 218, 219 

LA CONDAMINB, anecdotes of, 127-128 
"Lady Rose's Daughter" (Mrs H. 

Ward), 1 88 

La Fayette, Marquis de, 262 
Lennox, Lady Caroline, 87, 280, 281 



INDEX 



339 



L'Espinasse, Julie de, 187-188 

" Literary Anecdotes " (John Nichols), 

287 

London Packet, quoted, 317 
Louis XV., Court of, 180-182, 183 
Lovat, Lord, execution of, 1 34 
Ludgershall, borough of, 146, 147, 148, 

162, 164-168, 325 
Luynes, Due de, 181, 182 

MACARONIS, the, 292, 293 
Macaulay on Horace Walpole, 93-94 
March, third Earl of. See Queensberry, 

fourth Duke of 
Marie Leczczynski, wife of Louis XV., 

182-184 

Marmontel, Jean Frangois, 188 
Mason, William, 26 and note 
Matson, country seat of the Selwyns, 

II ; account of, 19-22; Walpole at, 

104-105 ; George III. at, 317-318 
Mellario, Count, 235 
Countess, 225, 228, 235 
" Mie Mie." See Fagnani, Maria 
Milan, Selwyn at, 223, 225-247 
Miller, Mrs, of Batheaston, 288 
Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley, quoted, 

13 

Moore, Thomas, quoted, 328-329 
Moritz, Rev. Karl, account of the 

House of Commons, 150, 151 
Morning Chronicle, quoted, 174, 321, 

322 

NEWCASTLE, first Duke of, 149-150 
Newspapers in the eighteenth century, 

298 

Newton, Rev. Richard, 32-33, 46, 47 
Nichols, John, "Literary Anecdotes," 

287 
North, Lord, 170, 171, 172, 173, 282, 

295 
North Carolina, land owned by Selwyn 

in, 56, 57 

O'BRIEN, Lady Susan, quoted, 329 
" Ode on the Death of Gray " (Earl of 

Carlisle), 276 
Onslow riots, 282 
Orleans, Duke of, 186 
" Out-of-town party," 73, 98-99 
Oxford in the eighteenth century, 25- 

32; Selwyn at, 25, 32-34, 36; 

expelled from, 36-47 

PARIS, Selwyn in, 179-202, 258-265 ; 

Walpole in, 101-103, IQ 6 
Parliament in the eighteenth century, 

145, I49-I5 1 
Parma, Duchess of, 240 



Parsons, Nancy, 327 
Pitt, John, 151-153 

William, the elder. See Chatham, 
first Earl of 

William, the younger, becomes 
Premier, 173, 174 ; mentioned, 284 

Pocket boroughs, 146-147 

Pompadour, Madame de, 181 

Pont de Veyle, 188, 189 

Pope, Alexander, I, III 

Prior, Matthew, III 

Public Advertiser, quoted, 298, 299, 300 

QUEENSBERRY, third Duke of, 253 and 
note, 254 

fourth Duke of, his reputation, 76- 
8 1, 83-84 ; friendship with Selwyn, 
81-83 J old age, 83-84 ; death, 84 ; 
in Paris, 189, 190, 191 ; interest in 
Mie Mie, 204, 205, 206, 207, 268 ; 
mentioned, 72, 73, 255, 269, 301, 
302, 308, 309, 325 

RATON (Selwyn's dog), 66, 103 
Ray, Martha, murder of, 128, 130 
Reynal, Abbe, 208 and note, 209 
Reynolds, Sir Joshua, 49, 85, 86, 214, 293 
Richardson, Samuel, I 
Richmond, Selywn at, 309-314, 318, 

320, 321 
Ridottos, 68 
Rigby, Richard, 67, 87 
Romney, George, 267 
Roscoe, E. S., Selwyn's Letters 

edited by, ix. 
Rousseau, J. J., controversy with 

Hume, 194 

SALONS, French, 184, 185 
Sandwich, fourth Earl of, 128, 129 
Selwyn, Albinia (grandmother), 13-14 

Albinia (sister : afterwards Town- 
shend), 18-19 

Charles Jasper, 13 

Edward, 12 

George Augustus, posts held by, vii., 
54-55. 57-59, 170, 174 > discovery of 
his private papers, vii. ; correspond- 
ence, vii.-x. ; literary style, ix. ; birth, 
I, II ; relation to his age, 2, 3 ; at 
Eton, 23-25 ; at Oxford, 25, 32-34, 
36 ; expelled, 36-47 ; money diffi- 
culties, 33-36; travels, 34-36; per- 
sonal appearance, 48 ; portraits, 48- 
50; quarrel with his father, 50-51 ; 
early life in London, 50-52, 66-69 ; 
estates of, 55-57 ; lands in North 
Carolina, 56, 57 ; at White's, 63, 
65, 66, 285; his friends, 70, 71, 72, 
73, 87, 269, 289; friendship with 



340 GEORGE SELWYN AND THE WITS 



Selwyn, George Augustus continued 
the Earl of March, 81-83; with 
Edgecumbe, 85, 86 ; with Sir 
Charles Williams, 91-92 ; with 
Walpole, 94-107; with the Earl of 
Carlisle, 270-279 ; with Charles James 
Fox, 279-287; his character, 71-72, 
331-336 ; in Walpole's letters, 94- 
95 ; Walpole's letters to, 100 ; 
as a wit, 108-109, 113-121; mor- 
bid tastes, 122-144; execution 
of Damiens, 125-128 ; murder of 
Miss Ray, 129, 130; at trial and 
execution of rebel lords, 130-134; 
at execution of Lord Lovat, 134; 
interest in Kennedy case, 136-139; 
in Paris, 129, 179-202, 258-265 ; in 
Parliament, 145-178; member for 
Ludgershall, 146, 162, 164-168 ; 
member for Gloucester, 152-161, 
307 ; alderman of Gloucester, 161, 
162; quarrel with Gloucester, 161- 
162; his politics, 168-174; Ma- 
dame du Deffand's opinion of, 193, 
20 1, 202, 204 ; estrangement from 
Madame du Deffand, 195, 196 ; 
love of children, 203 ; affection for 
Mie Mie, 203, 204, 264, 267 ; adop- 
tion of Mie Mie, 204-206 ; at Milan, 
223, 225-247 ; at Grignan, 247, 248, 
249,252; illnesses, 265, 315, 320, 
321; quarrel with Fox, 284, 286; 
moderation in play, 300-301 ; in 
Chesterfield Street, 305 ; at Rich- 
mond, 309, 311-314, 3 l8 320; 
Irish lawsuit, 310; at Matson, 315 ; 
visited by George III., 317-318; 
death, 321 ; obituary notices, 321- 
323, 324 ; religious views, 323, 324 ; 
will, 324-325 ; Hayward's essay on, 
326, 327. 

Selwyn, George Augustus (Bishop of 
New Zealand), 13 

Jasper, 11-12, 19, 20 

John (father), u, 14, 15, 33, 34, 
95, 146, 151, 152 

John (brother), 18 

Mary (mother), u, 15-18, 215 

William (son of Jasper Selwyn), 12 

William, K.C., 12 

William ("Nisi Prius"), 12 

William (Canon of Ely), 12 

William (grandfather), 13 
SeVigne", Madame de, 247, 248, 249, 251 
Shenstone, William, 30 

Sheridan, Richard Brinsley, election 

to Brooks's, 120-121 
Sinecures, 52-54 
Smollet, Tobias, novels of, 5 ; quoted, 

179, 1 80 



Stanislaus, King of Poland, 182, 183 

Steele, Richard, in 

Stepmother, The (Earl of Carlisle), 

276 

Sterne, Laurence, I, 5, 180 
Storer, Anthony, letter from, 125 ; 

quoted, 140, 285, 286; account of, 

287-288 

Strawberry Hill, 93, 97-100 
Swift, Jonathan, i, in 
Sydney, first Viscount (nephew), 18, 

19, 164 and note, 165, 167, 172, 289, 

305, 325 

THACKERAY, W. M., "The Four 
Georges," 4, 279 ; "The Virginians," 
7, 65, 69; "Vanity Fair," 268; 
quoted, 271 

Tickell, Thomas, 1 1 1 

" Tom Jones "(Henry Fielding), 5, 312 

Townshend, George, first Marquis, 124 

second Viscount, 17 

Charles (nephew), letters to, 156- 
159, 161, 164-166, 237-238, 246-247, 
318-319 ; mentioned, 160, 163, 164 

Mary, letter to, 9 ; letters of 
Selwyn to, 19, 130, 163-164, 198, 
200, 205, 208-213, 2I 7> 220-246, 
248-266, 305-306, 312-315, 315-317 

Thomas (brother-in-law), 50, 51 

Thomas (nephew). See Sydney, first 
Viscount 

Tunbridge Wells, 306 
Turk's Head, The, 293 

"VANITY FAIR" (Thackeray), 268 
" Virginians, The " (Thackeray), 7, 69 
Voltaire, 186, 198 

WALPOLE, Horace, letters of, 4-5 ; to 
Selwyn, 100, 101-102; at Eton, 23, 
24 ; friendship with Edgecumbe, 85, 
86 ; Macaulay on, 93-94 ; friendship 
with Selwyn, 94-107; "The Castle 
of Otranto," ipi ; in Paris, 101-103, 
106 ; " Historic Doubts on Richard 
the Third," 104; at Castle Howard, 
104 ; at Matson, 104-105 ; old age, 
106-107 > on death of Selwyn, 107 ; 
on Selwyn's morbid tastes, 123; on 
the execution of the rebel lords, 131- 
134 ; at Gloucester election, 156 ; 
friendship with Madame du Deffand, 
191, 192, 193, 194, 195 ; opinion of 
Selwyn, 193 ; quoted, 21, 84, 85, 86, 
96-97, 99, 276, 288, 296, 311, 315. 
319, 321 

Walpole, Sir Robert, r, 17 

Ward, Mrs Humphrey, " Lady Rose's 
Daughter," 188 



INDEX 



341 



Warner, Dr John, quoted, 91 ; letter 
to The Gentleman' s Magazine, 141 ; 
letters to Mie Mie, 267, 307 ; 
mentioned, 217 

Warton, Thomas, 25 

Thomas, junior, 27 
Wesley, Charles, 31, 32 

John, 7-8, 31 
White, Dr Joseph, 312 
Whitefield, George, 31-32 

White's, 60, 61, 62-67, 285, 286, 

287, 289, 294, 301 
Wilberforce, William, 81, 304 



William III., 314 

Williams, Sir Charles Hanbury, 87-92 ; 

friendship with Selwyn, 91-92 
Williams, George James ("Gilly"), 

65. 72-76, 124, 180, 189, 190, 191, 

269, 291 
Wit and humour, 108-111 ; Selwyn on, 

no 
Wits of the eighteenth century, ill- 

114 
Wraxall, Nathaniel, quoted, 21, 84, 

115, I2O, 126, 177; member for 

Ludgershall, 162 



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